I believe the Bible clearly teaches that leaders need to be authoritative without being authoritarian. What’s the difference? Dan Rockwell seeks to help us understand that difference so we can exercise appropriate biblical authority without being jerks.

Originally posted by Dan Rockwell

How to be Authoritative without being a Jerk

Fear only works when the big bad leader is present. The sigh of relief when jerk-leaders leave the room signals disengagement.

The most effective leaders are authoritative, not authoritarian.


Authority is permission to act without asking permission while being held accountable.

Successful leaders know how to take the bull by the horns – be authoritative – in ways that engage and energize organizations. They don’t trample people. They point the way and “go with” at the same time.

Authoritarian leaders believe leadership is about power rather than service.

Seven ways to be an authoritative leader:

  1. Purpose. Leaders exist to serve. The purpose of authority in organizations is effective service.
  2. Parameters. Authority is made safe by boundaries and accountability.
    1. Align and explain your role in terms of organizational mission and vision.
    2. Define what you don’t do. Boundaries focus energy and protect.
    3. Exemplify organizational values.
  3. Learn. Authority often makes people feel they know when they don’t. You become authoritative when you learn from people who know more than you. Leaders become coercive jerks when they’re always the smartest person at the table. (Sarcasm intended.)
  4. Competence. Celebrate the competence of others without degrading your role.
  5. Engage. Authoritarian leaders say, “Do what I tell you.” Authoritative leaders get their hands dirty. Participation indicates authoritative. Isolation indicates authoritarian.
  6. Explain. Authoritative leaders explain what we are doing and why. Jerk-leaders leaders just want it done.
  7. Forward. Focus more on where you’re going than what went wrong. Backward facing leaders only lead into the past. They’re great at blame and repetition. Never point out negatives unless you’re ready to reach toward positives.

Push-overs can’t lead. Authoritative leaders are confident but not domineering, empathetic but not weak.

The power of authoritative leadership is respect; authoritarian is fear.

How might leaders be authoritative without being authoritarian?