The Right to Lead

  • Published
  • By Gene Kamena
  • Professor, Air War College
Editor's note: this is the second in a series of articles addressing the Right to Lead.

Your authority as a leader in the profession of arms includes the constitutional, legislative, and positional powers vested in you by the people of the United States, the president as commander in chief, and by your service. Constitutional and legislative authority codifies what you are allowed to do in addition to what you are prohibited or restricted from doing. In the profession of arms, the linage of your authority is as old as the republic itself. The United States Constitution provides the basis not only for your authority as a leader, but serves as the genesis of all branches of the military.

A superficial review of key components of constitutional and legislative components include: Article I of the constitution provides for the "common defense;" while Article II empowers the president to serve as the commander-in-chief and grants the President the authority to "appoint Officers of the United States" further directs to "Commission all the Officers of the United States." Article VI mandates that officers "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support the Constitution...." Finally, legislative directives found in Title 10 of the U.S. Code allows for the enlisted oath and provides detailed expectations concerning the standards of conduct for commissioned officers, according to Richard Swain in "Reflection on an Ethic of Officership." (I borrowed heavily from Richard Swain in this paragraph, and therefore am in his debt.)

Positional authority is of a more transient nature; powers granted based on position or duty. Command, investigating officers, and members of a courts marshal are examples of positional authorities; specific powers vested in you are for a prescribed period of time. Furthermore, orders may direct you to take certain actions under the umbrella of the issuing headquarters, according to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, in "White Paper on Mission Command." Your authority to take action within scope of those orders is again for a specific time period, usually until the mission changes or you are retasked. Moreover, your rank carries with it a less fleeting type of authority--as your rank increases so does your general authority.

It is important to as understand both the scope and limits of your authorities; however, how you view and the manner in which you carry your authority does much to define who you are as a leader. Below are my thoughts on four specific categories of leaders, all were encountered during my military career:

· The junior leader leans heavily on the authority conferred to them. It takes time and confidence to lead through other means other than authority, position, or rank. As other elements in the RTL model mature, your reliance, at least wholly, on authority should subside, or at least become balanced.

· The minimally competent leader conflates authority with leadership. These leaders consider the capacity to issue orders with the ability to lead people; related, but certainly not the same thing.

· The power mongers are obsessed with authority and power associated with position and title--it is all about the corner office, the parking space, and the trapping of power. These leaders are always interested in their own authority, but often question the authority of others--the word "toxic" comes to mind.

· Mature leaders comprehend, but seldom leverage, or bring to the forefront their authorities; people follow them because of who they are, not what they are--they generate a special kind of authority through the trust and confidence rendered to them by the people they lead.

Your authority, relative to your rank, position, and duty is ever present, the trick is to understand what it is, meet your obligations, but never abuse or lean too heavily on your authority. Also remember that authority is relative, you operate within the realm of the authority of your boss; demonstrated loyalty to others will solidify your authority as leader. Authority does not, however, give you the right to lead, it gives you the right to give orders; authority does put you in a position to earn the right to lead. Next week's article will examine the responsibilities and obligations in the RTL model.