Leading With Authority

By Jaime Valenzuela (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Recently, I waited with my daughter at her bus pickup location. She and I saw a pair of children, a brother and sister, my daughter informed me, interacting with one another verbally as they waited for the same bus. The brother sat on the sidewalk with his backpack on, the sister, standing, began to kick rocks at her brother. She did it multiple times. My daughter and I stood there and watched. I told my daughter that the sister should not be doing that. It was not a nice or respectful thing to do. A lesson instilled … or at least I hoped not. 

The next day, I told myself that if the same sister began to kick rocks at her brother, I would speak up. I would call out the wrong doing. I would be Brave! The next day came and fortunately no rocks were kicked. Unfortunately, there will be other opportunities for me to instill the lesson that I want to instill. A lesson to my daughter and myself; it’s good to speak up and defend what is right. That’s what a good leader will do.

In July, I was introduced to the VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues during a Special Collections Leadership Seminar offered by the University of Virginia Rare Book School. My professor asked class members to select 3 of the 24 character strengths that we identified with in relation to how we carry ourselves at work. I selected Honesty, Teamwork, and Self-regulation. This introduction to character traits aligned with a question I had early in the class: how do we lead without authority?

The VIA tells us that each of us possess all 24 characteristics to some extent. I hope that each of you can take some comfort in knowing that we have the ability to tap into those other strengths. I think that an ability to lead without authority comes in understanding who we are and how we want to be perceived by others. For those of us in a “non-leadership” position, control your process. Be mindful of how you can tap into other character strengths when necessary and recognize the characteristics in others, good or bad. It will inform the leader that you are, regardless of your position. The brother and sister were not my children but that’s only serving as an excuse for who I want to be.

If I tried, I could provide examples of when I have tapped into other character strengths. This is especially true at work, but such examples are not the ones that stick with me. I am often frustrated at my inability to tap into those other strengths when needed.

I am sure that many of you are just as likely to recall the times that we do not tap into those other characteristics: Perseverance, Zest, Bravery. I do not think that such recollections and hopefully some self reflection, negative or positive, are a bad thing so long as we have the ability to not let such thoughts consume us constantly. More often than not, there will always be another opportunity for a lesson to be learned. There will likely be another opportunity for us to tap into another strength.

If we all have some authority, a better question posed to my teacher would have been: how does one lead well?


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not those of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.