Why Authority Matters More than Status When it Comes to Leadership

Josh L
5 min readFeb 22, 2022

You need to be comfortable with being disliked

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

Leadership is a funny thing.

There are countless approaches to go about it. Usually, we want to know how to become a good leader and what exactly makes someone a good leader.

I was recently put in charge of seven different people at work. Some are older than me and have more experience than I do. A few hold higher titles and are normally in charge of me.

However, for this particular project, I am calling the shots. Upper management has put me in charge despite being on the younger side and being the low man on the totem pole.

As you can imagine, it has been a struggle so far. Those who normally tell me what to don’t like to listen to me. Those who are older than me feel as though I am beneath them. The younger ones are immature and don’t follow instructions.

It’s been a struggle being in charge when I have little to no leadership experience.

I have learned a few things up to this point that has helped me to become a better leader.

First, I learned that I can't care what people think of me.

I am (was?) friends with a few people before being in charge. So, I was a pushover and pretty much let them do whatever they wanted. I was the leader in name only.

Because of this, minimal work was getting done. People did what they wanted when they wanted. There was a lot of fooling around and people not acting professionally.

They knew I wasn’t man enough to say anything to them when they acted up.

Nothing was getting done. As less work got completed and the quality dropped, my superior came to me looking for answers.

I didn’t really have much to say besides promising to do better. They threatened to put someone else in charge if I couldn’t pull it together.

To be honest, this didn’t seem like a bad option for me. I could avoid all the pressure and work that comes with being a leader. I could have asked them to put me back in my old spot.

I didn’t want that. I wanted to learn and lead the group that I had been given. Something needed to change.

One of our rules is that you can’t be on your phone during work hours. When walking down the hallway, I saw one of my group members walking and talking on the phone.

“Hey, you need to put your phone away,” I said.

He laughed and proceeded to flip me off. He thought I was joking.

I said it again.

With a surprised look on his face, he put his phone away.

“You on a power trip, boss?” he said.

I knew he would say something like this. This is the first thing people think when you tell them what to do or what not to do.

I thought, no, I’m not. You know you’re not supposed to be on the phone at work, yet you are. You know the rules.

As time progressed, I became more consistent with making sure people were doing what they were supposed to be. Deadlines were being met with time left over, and the quality of work was better than normal.

Of course, it wasn’t all perfect.

My old friends hated me. I could see it in their eye. They thought I changed. They never said this, but I could feel it.

They thought I had gone mad with the little power assigned to me. I learned not to care.

What makes a good leader?

A good leader makes sure the work gets done. They make sure people stay focused, do their jobs, and produce results.

That’s it.

Leaders don’t care if they are liked. They don’t care if everyone talks crap behind their back. In the end, none of that matters.

Your coworkers may not like you at the time, but they’ll love you when times get tough and a decision needs to be made. If they respect you, they will look to you for the answer.

You need to make sure you are capable of making a decision, especially when it’s unpopular.

The second thing I’ve learned is that your authority level matters more than your title.

What do I mean by this?

As I said earlier, I was leading people who were considered above me on the corporate rank structure. These people had been there longer than me and had more experience.

Despite this, for the project we were working on, I was in charge.

My level of authority mattered more than their place within the company.

Because of this, I needed to act like it. If I continued to act timidly in front of the group, I would get torn apart. The backhanded comments needed to be ignored.

This is tough to do at first. When people have a better title than you, that does not mean you are beneath them.

Titles don’t make a leader.

Actions are what make leaders.

I was afraid of the titles that these people had. This made me second guess myself and my ability to lead them.

What I realized was that I was overthinking it. My competency level at the job was greater than theirs. This is why I was put in charge in the first place.

Once I believed this, things got easier. I had more confidence in my decisions and was able to lead at a higher level.

Don’t be intimidated by titles. They are not a characteristic of a good leader.

What can you learn from this?

Next time you are in a leadership position, make a decision and stick with it. If it’s the wrong one, you’ll adjust accordingly.

Your team will notice your confidence in your decisions and respect what you have to say. They may fight you at first, but they’ll be glad they are not the ones in the difficult position.

Remember that you are a leader, not a friend. Your popularity level means nothing if you are getting walked over and ignored.

If you want to be popular, be a follower. Do what others tell you to do without a second thought. People will love your obedience and keep you around as long as it serves them.

If you want to be a leader, don’t shy away from confrontation. You will have to go against the majority. You will have to have those uncombable conversations. People may hate you for it.

Let them.

Your goal is to be a leader?

Drown out the noise and lead your team to results. Friends come and go. Results stay forever.