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Authoritative but not stupid?

  1. Feb 7, 2009 #1
    Here is a question of practical philosophy (the best kind, in my opinion). How does one maintain a position of authority without becoming stupid in the process? When you are in a position of authority, you have to keep up the impression that you are wise--that your decisions, judgments, and orders are just. But this very need to keep up appearances (in order to inspire awe and respect in those in your charge) gives you a perverse incentive to not admit when you make a mistake. An intelligent person might be able to keep up this facade for a while, but I think most people start to fall for it themselves, actually believing they are nearly infallible. When authority is forced upon you, as it sometimes is, what do you do to keep from becoming ridiculous?


    edit: I guess I need a disclaimer here. I understand that authority is a necessity for many organizations (families, schools, businesses, military outfits, etc.) to work well. I'm just asking how do you do it, especially in situations where the respect is not exactly automatic. If you are a charismatic professor and your adoring students hang on your every word, then you don't need to invoke such gems of argumentation as "Because I say so" or "I'm the boss and what I say goes" or "You have been given a direct order" or something similar.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2009
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  3. Feb 7, 2009 #2

    Evo

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    Sounds like you have a problem dealing with authority.
     
  4. Feb 7, 2009 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    There are those believe what you say, and it may apply in places like the military, but generally speaking it sounds like a false premise to me.

    What did Obama say just this week?

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28994296/
     
  5. Feb 7, 2009 #4

    lisab

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    You should read up on modern management theory. There are ways to manage people without "keeping the impression that you are wise."
     
  6. Feb 7, 2009 #5
    Thanks. Do you suggest any particular author?
     
  7. Feb 7, 2009 #6

    lisab

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    Sorry, I'm just a science geek.

    But seriously, one of the guys at my work is really big on management theory. He's got some great ideas about improving our workplace, and we've implemented a lot of them. I'll ask him Monday what he recommends.
     
  8. Feb 7, 2009 #7
    That is a breath of fresh air. I hope he keeps that attitude and that it doesn't bite him in the arse. Maybe my premise is false. I have actually been considering joining the military, but the idea of having to give orders scares me more than having to follow them.
     
  9. Feb 7, 2009 #8
    I have just started reading this book. It's about corporate wars or management.
    I was hoping for something else :(
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2009
  10. Feb 7, 2009 #9
    There are some Defensible Decision Making Processes. Failures happen all the time .. Nothing is perfect but you should be able to defend your decisions.
     
  11. Feb 7, 2009 #10

    Evo

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    If you are joining as an enlisted person, it will be a long time before you are in a position to give orders, if ever. If you fail to show signs of being capable, you won't be promoted.
     
  12. Feb 7, 2009 #11
    I was thinking of trying to become an officer in some low-key, noncombat department of the Air Force. Meteorology sounds good. I don't know anything about meteorology, but it sounds cool. It's just something I've thought about casually...nothing is set in stone. Whether I go into the military or not, I'm still interested in the topic of how to go about handling authority gracefully.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2009
  13. Feb 8, 2009 #12
    the most important skill to learn when in a position of authority is how to delegate. and the most important thing you will delegate is blame.
     
  14. Feb 8, 2009 #13
    Most air forces hire civilian meteorologists, but even within that trade there is hierarchy. Orders are given in any organisation.

    Also in the ideal situation, coworkers are happy to follow orders as they want to do the boss a favor. As a boss you should try to accomplish that, but it requires a lot of effort. It means that caring for the personel, solving their problems, is the highest priority.

    Coworkers, who have had the help and support of their boss in difficult matters, are not going to say no that easily.

    Operating any organization is teamwork, it's not a competative struggle for authority. Safeguarding that principle is leadership.

    http://www.netfunny.com/rhf/jokes/89q2/noah.364.html

     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2009
  15. Feb 8, 2009 #14

    brewnog

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    I realise that was tongue-in-cheek, but I disagree. In successful delegation, you are responsible for ensuring that that person is capable of doing the task. While that person is culpable for any failures, you are ultimately responsible, and you should recognise that. Good leaders don't delegate blame.
     
  16. Feb 8, 2009 #15

    Chi Meson

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    A bad leader can't even delegate blame correctly. e.g. "Brownie, you're doing a hell of a job."
     
  17. Feb 9, 2009 #16
    Hehe. Yes, Noah must have had some serious leadership and management skills, among other things. :biggrin: You describe the ideal leader, and I agree with everything you say. Perhaps I've just run into too many less-than-ideal leaders. They seem to be the rule rather than the exception, but I suppose people with different experiences might dispute that.

    Perhaps this is too cynical, but it certainly agrees with my experience. It takes much less effort to delegate blame than to be a good leader. And can you blame someone for cutting corners when it comes to effort? Who doesn't do that now and then? I would even suggest that we are hardwired to do it automatically...you have to be alert to stop yourself from slacking :smile:
     
  18. Feb 9, 2009 #17

    turbo

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    Having been on both sides of the management/employee divide, I can tell you that there is nothing monolithic about authority (unless you are in the military or a REAL buttoned-down company). In fact when I was hired by a training company to start up a pulp-and-paper division as the resident specialist, things were REAL interesting. I was teamed up with a project manager (ex-nuclear sub engineer) and when it came to internal company policies, procedures, and project schedules, I deferred to him. He made sure that the company's resources were lined up for our projects, and when we were back at the office, I would gladly do stuff like baby-sitting the high-speed copier to print hundreds of manuals while he rode herd on support-staff, graphics, etc. When it came to matters that were particular to the mills that we did project work for, he deferred to me, and I assigned portions of the project work to him and other employees. When we had equivalent expertise (steam distributions systems, electrical distribution, feedwater treatment, for example) we played off one another, and neither one was the "boss". It worked very well, and we got along great. It was unfortunate that we got so many projects in the deep south, because he is black and though he and I both love the blues and would have loved to go out clubbing in our off-hours, that was not too safe (for either of us) in the '80's.
     
  19. Feb 9, 2009 #18
    That sounds like an excellent arrangement. It takes two intelligent people for that to work.


    That's a shame. I think things have improved here quite a bit since then, but one hopes the improvement is not finished. Judging by the bumper stickers I see around here, there are a non-negligible number of Southerners who are still holding out for a 'do-over'.
     
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