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Mercy Odongo Nov 26, 2020

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When we talk about leadership and authority, it is important that we do not forget that leadership is an activity not a position or a role. There are no leadership positions. There are positions of authority. Authority, as we defined earlier in the session, is power entrusted for service.

The main difference between authority and leadership is that authority figure is expected to provide direction, protection, control, order or reduce conflict and maintain norms. On the other hand, exercising leadership will raise difficult questions, confront challenges, surface or sustain conflict within productive bounds and challenge the norms.

According to Ron Heifetz, professor at the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government,

“... to lead is to live dangerously because leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear - their daily habits, tools, loyalties and ways of thinking - with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility “

This begs the questions:

why lead?

Why put yourself in situations where people depend on your decisions?

What if you're wrong?

What if people get hurt?

Are you sure you can handle the responsibilities of exercising leadership?

If you were to ask the question on how to succeed as a leader, the internet would be awash with prescriptive answers. Say for example you Googled a simple query, “How to succeed as a leader”, then click on the I am feeling lucky button, you will receive more than 170 million search results.

Traversing over the endless digestible list, you’ll find blogs and articles explaining what it takes to be a successful leader, tips and tricks successful leaders do and how to replicate their results. However, according to Ron Heifetz, the word leader is often not used correctly, while it should be, the exercise of leadership.

In this context of exercising leadership, leadership is then about raising issues or asking questions that disturb people and force people to come to terms with points of view or problems that they would rather not consider. Leadership is about mobilizing people and organizations to address their most difficult issues and challenge the status quo.

Leadership is about pushing against the resistance with both courage and skill to minimize the chances of being taken out of the game. To practice adaptive leadership, one has to help people navigate through period of discomfort or disturbance as they sift through what essential and expendable during the process of testing the solution.


We have learnt that authority is power entrusted for service. Authority carries distinctive expectations and people in positions of authority is expected to provide direction, protection, create norms and order. Leadership on the other hand is a behavior or an activity not position or a role; leadership positions do not exist. Leadership is about mobilizing people, holding unto one’s sense of purpose and connecting others to that purpose

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Written by

Mercy Odongo