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Cheri Dudek | Beware the no authority gauntlet in your organization

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A common trap we as leaders set for ourselves and our team is delegating responsibility without sufficient authority to be effective. I never felt more at the receiving end of this lose-lose scenario as when I was a school teacher responsible for so many young minds with expectations to reach standard, but very little authority (either with parents or with the system itself) to do what I believed would be most instrumental in real progress.

You see this mismatch everywhere in business. The front line for most organizations is a breeding ground for it. Customer service agents are expected to help customers; solve issues and make them “happy.” But if the situation calls for any creativity or veers from prescribed solutions-most companies will not grant the authority to employees to make decisions, they must move up the chain of command. This is frustrating for employees and infuriating for customers.

But this phenomenon occurs at all levels in an organization. In most companies, special projects are needed and a committee or group is gathered and a leader appointed. Often that project leader (or manager) does not have authority for every person on her project team outside the project. Many of those individuals have supervisors they report to for day-to-day work. If this group contains peers or people who sit above her in your organization, you are setting her up for failure.

There is considerable research into this phenomenon known as the NAG Syndrome (No Authority Gauntlet), which costs organizations millions each year. Best case scenario: initiatives undertaken by “nagging” pseudo-managers take waaaaay longer than initiatives undertaken by managers who have authority. Just as important as the loss of productivity is the loss of top talent. Great people won’t endure this state of frustration for long. A leader’s awareness and intent are key ingredients for a successful ascension, whether it is a short-term or a permanent promotion.

What can you do to Avoid the NAG trap?

1. Take the time to assure your people understand the goals and priorities set forth by you and your leadership team for the greater good of the company. These priorities are set at the top level of an organization and understood and shared at each level of leadership.

2. Be public about the scope and authority of leadership roles, both temporary and permanent to avoid ambiguity or confusion. This not only validates authority among peers and superiors, but also clarifies boundaries for the new leader. Again, this has to be clear from the top levels.

3. Make sure you have adequate resources to support those projects and goals — including the people needed for success to avoid tensions between departments sharing those people resources.

Most of the time there is no evil plot to undermine our people. We see opportunities to develop leadership when special projects arise in our companies-often our hearts and heads are in the right place. For these opportunities to be beneficial (both to your company and your employee), it is imperative to follow up new responsibilities with the authority to see the job through.


Cheri Dudek is a leadership enthusiast and CEO at Orchard Corset. Read her leadership blogs at www.cheridudek.com//category/latest-news/