Dov Siedman, author of the book, “How,” says there are basically two kinds of authority in the world: formal authority and moral authority.
The former can be (pick one: taken, granted, elected, appointed). The latter must be earned through respect from those over whom one has authority. He’s not talking about COMMANDING respect, he talking about gaining true respect through leading by example and giving the people what they want and deserve.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman referred to Siedman in a June 2013 column about protests in Turkey. Friedman says Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost the respect of his people. He says they don’t want to overthrow him, as has been done, or is in progress, in other Muslim countries. They just want him to know that he is making or changing rules about religion and other things, and they don’t like it. They just want him to, as Friedman puts it, back off.
But Siedman’s work can be applied to other parts of life. In fact, Siedman’s company, LRN, advises CEOs on how to gain more moral authority within their organizations.
Think of any work situation. Is your boss (pick one or more: overbearing, incompetent, cheap)? Do you hate going in there, but have to so you can put food on the table? If you were in your boss’ shoes, how would you run the place?
You don’t gain respect by edict. You earn it by your behavior. Think of it this way: if you were in your boss’ shoes, would you think you’d have a better, even more profitable operation if the people working for you genuinely respected you? If they talk at lunch, or after work, are they maligning you or are they admiring you? If you already have some authority over people, even your children as a parent, you need to be concerned about that to a great degree.
Sure, you are going to take some actions that not everyone will like. But if you have their respect overall, they will understand why you did it and work with you. It makes for a much smoother and, if it’s a business, generally a more profitable operation.
The other advantage of leading by example, and behaving so those on your team respect you, is you say less to them. They will follow what you do. Words can be misunderstood or misconstrued, but actions provide much clearer meaning.
If you are starting, or want to start, your own company, think about Siedman’s work and earn moral authority from the employees you ultimately hire. They will thank you for it by their actions. And you might actually enjoy giving priority to THEIR success first. It will pay you dividends that are worth more than money.
If you want to start a company, even if you are working for someone else, visit You should be able to spend a little time building your fortune without interfering with what you are already doing.
If you are a boss, test out your moral authority. Go to lunch with your folks, or meet them after work. If they welcome you, you may already have moral authority. If they find reasons not to include you, you know you have work to do.
If you don’t care what they think of you, you have some thinking to do. It could take you a long time to earn their respect. In fact, you may have to do it gradually as newer employees join you. It takes lots of energy to be a dictator and hold power when those below you hate you. It takes far less energy and stress to earn moral authority.