Rethinking authority, the consequences for companies

While managerial literature evokes horizontality, exemplarity and leadership as cardinal values ​​of the modern organization, the authority that is exercised daily in a company is an increasingly neglected subject. Because it refers to an archaic view of how a business works, because authority is often equated with authoritarianism.
Yet it is this that is practiced daily and primarily in organizations. Those who exercise it and those over whom it is exercised are those who we see every day.
It seems necessary to us to deconstruct this notion to both rationalized discourses which tend to summarize authority in a form of charisma and to consider new perspectives to help managerial reflection.

Historical Shift


The advent of large corporations at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries questions the notion of authority. It came either from the charisma attached to the leader which by his personal qualities and his singular essence came naturally. It is the figure of the providential man who makes it possible to influence the course of Charles de Gaulle history and the liberation, or the fate of a company Steve Job, creator of Apple, Steve Job, savior of Apple.
Authority came from the tradition of institutions that immediately confer the necessary authority to decide the future of the group. It is the role of the Shaman in the primitive tribes, it is the figure of the heir Henry Ford II grandson of the founder.
But the emergence of large corporations does not allow recourse to these forms of authority, because they are too recent at the time, and because they are stratified, which is incompatible with charismatic authority.

What science says

Max Weber one of the founders of Sociology identifies legal / rational authority. It confers on those who occupy a position in the organization the necessary authority to carry out their mission. And it proceeds in a specific selection mode to assign those positions that closely match the needs of the organization.
It seems to us that in many companies charisma and tradition confer authority which can conflict with the interests of the company. Its owners can cause resistance to change, blurring of lines of command, distortion of the organization chart, disruption of processes, difficulty in onboarding and ultimately impact the economic and organizational indicators of the company.

Find a path


We have identified three principles that, we believe, serve to build authority that is rational and in line with the demands of a contemporary business.
Accountability is about defining clear responsibilities that everyone in the organization can understand. To make it effective, the organization must be understandable to all and the scopes defined according to the business strategy. This principle makes it possible to keep an organization simple and aligned with the strategy. By granting responsibility for a business area, or process, in a region, the organization at the same time grants authority to the manager.
Picking consists of placing the right profiles in the right positions. By organizing the selection through the organization, picking makes it possible to resolve the difficulties of succession, validation of skills and interpersonal skills. The establishment of these processes and their conduct in itself confer on those who come from them (potentially all members of the organization) the authority that accompanies their responsibilities. This also ensures the adaptation of the organization to our VUCA environment (Volatily, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity)

Sustainability ensures consistency of action beyond those who are called upon to exercise responsibilities. Nothing is more deleterious for the authority than its questioning with each change of direction, for the one who has to perform these functions as for the teams. It reduces the organization’s dependence on talent. Finally, it allows all organizational levels to coordinate more effectively and senior management to ensure more effective monitoring of the activity.
We can now observe two divergent phenomena, but which cause identical effects: an organizational overflow that confuses and weakens the vitality of companies and discourages employees. And also a phenomenon which advocates the development of individual capacities to evolve in a blurred and shifting context, to the point of losing the benefits of pooling resources. Authority is, in the first case, diluted and in the second derives from individual capacities. While the proper exercise of authority is essential for the proper functioning of the business.