Power, Authority and Service Leadership


Power, Authority and Service Leadership

A service-oriented organization is consolidated through its Service culture. A culture of service demands the presence of leaders that are committed to a mission of service in order to satisfy the customers and all that are related to the organization. Through this culture it is possible to maintain competitiveness and distinction in the external environment, and at the same time, to reinforce the integration of employees in the internal environment.

It is important to consider Schein’s reflection: “to understand what goes on in organizations and why it happens in the way it does, one needs several concepts. Climate and culture, if each is carefully defined, then become two crucial building blocks for organizational description and analysis”[1]. But to define something it is necessary to understand it with enough depth, which is not very frequent when analyzing the organizational climate and culture. It is even less frequent, to understand the relationship between climate and culture and their mutually reinforcing properties.

As we have pointed out in previous articles, climate and culture in the organization are manifested through several aspects, and requires specific efforts to consolidate. For us, and in accordance with important studies, leadership is an essential and decisive factor to develop an authentic culture and to create a specific climate in an organization. Schein argues that, leadership and culture are intertwined, leaders as entrepreneurs are the main architects of culture. On the other side, Schneider and his colleagues explain that a service-focused leadership is important to establish a climate of service[2]. This type of climate orients the behavior of employees for their task, which promotes customer satisfaction and ultimately drives sales.

Then, the question is: how is it possible to consolidate a service leadership? Although various factors will be necessary for this purpose, here we are going to focus on the main aspects from an anthropological vision of what power and authority are about. According to Pérez López, an executive must achieve positive results in terms of the organizational efficacy, that is, he must be able to obtain sufficient economic income that is needed to continue functioning. But also, the executive must demonstrate the ability to discover and use the talents, skills and impulses of the employees. In this way, the executive can achieve significant results by creating an attractive professional environment in the organization. However, if the executive tries to teach his subordinates to assess their actions as they affect other people, then it is necessary that the executive develops other dimension: his leadership. It should be noted that this is a leadership that integrates all the managerial tasks, building harmony and consistency among them. In other words, this executive is not only concerned about doing some things that are convenient for the organization to be efficacious. Nor it is enough for him that these things be more or less attractive to the employees who have to perform them. He seeks, above all, to get people to act for transcendent reasons, that is to be oriented for serving others. This executive does his best for being a reference about a transcendent attitude. Thus, try to maintain solidly the unity of the organization. The unity is forged through his desire for guiding subordinates with a sense of mission, with the responsibility of satisfying real needs of customers and co-workers. This is a leader who forges commitment in his subordinates for developing their talent in order to better serve the customers every time. This leader is focused on others: customers, subordinates, colleagues, superiors, suppliers, etc. He applies this focus through the necessary personal efforts that is a process in which he develops the difficult ability to work for transcendent reasons, and to sacrifice his own selfishness when no one can force him to do so[3].

An executive has a formal power received from the organization to ensure that the tasks are done in compliance with the orders. This power comes from an agreement between two parties to assume a specific position. The executive may use this power to the extent he deems appropriate, and so may use it properly or abuse this power in a coercive manner, and even not use it sufficiently. This power when not oriented correctly will generate tense working environments, cold and limited. But the executive can use another type of influence that is based on personal reasons for working or intrinsic motives to work in a determined organization. An executive sometimes tries to please employees although not always according to what is more convenient for others: the employee, the organization, the customers, the work team, etc. It is a power that can get people moving towards one side or the other, but not always in line with the institutional mission and moral values, which can cause people to move for purely selfish reasons. This is called a manipulative power, very dangerous for organizations.

Exemplarity, on the other hand, is the only way to help others to act in turn for transcendent reasons, and not only for extrinsic and intrinsic reasons. When executives are only focused on extrinsic and intrinsic reasons can abuse of coercive power and manipulative power respectively. Exemplarity is the necessary condition for achieving authority, and this is the strength of the leader. A person has authority over another if, and only if, the latter relies on the driving motives of the actions of the first. Trust in the intentions of the person in charge is the only thing that can foster authority. But the intentions are the product of the exercise of the freedom of each person, which means that they cannot be imposed, each one decides freely. And there will be noble intentions as long as the person reaches a maturity that means the right use of his intelligence and will, knowing how to think and act accordingly: rationality and virtuosity in terms of Pérez López, the way to know how to use freedom. This leads us to understand that a leader to develop his or her authority requires a solid personal development, not just professional.

In practice, authority is equated with the formal power of an executive, which from this anthropological perspective would be a mistake. Rather, we would have to say that an executive with authority will use his formal power in a coherent manner. In practice, it also happens that everything that is not influenced by the coercive power-which occurs within the formal system-tends to be called authority and, therefore, qualities of leadership are attributed to any executive with great professional capacity who appeals to the intrinsic reasons. Only when a person knows that his reasons and motives are not indifferent to another and that, consequently, will be considered in the decisions of the latter on issues that affect both, the foundation is given to recognize his authority and accept, to priori, that decision (that is, accept it before knowing what that decision may be)[4].

But trust, being a necessary condition for authority, is not a sufficient aspect. Therefore, the authority also requires strategic capabilities-that promote the efficacy of the organization-and executive capabilities-that contribute to the attractiveness within an environment of learning and professional development. In other words, an executive with authority must know how to deal with the extrinsic and intrinsic motives of the person, but in a consistent manner, and not through coercive or manipulative power. The way to do so is through a transcendent attitude.

In the organization that tries to be oriented through a service mission- to the market and to the internal atmosphere-, the service leader must be able to implement an effective service strategy that promotes customer satisfaction and obtains sufficient economic results. Likewise, he must be able to create an enriching climate of service that contributes to develop people’s talent, guides their specific performance, and generates employees’ satisfaction. But beyond that, he must forge a transcendent and authentic leadership that promotes the employees’ identification and commitment to the institutional mission.

This leadership is based on authority and he maintains it as long as he uses the powers he has rightly. The correct use of power generates authority. Or the authority is lost due to the incorrect use of power. This concept can be applied to any human organization, including a country or society. Unfortunately we see in some countries and societies how some executives and officials achieve their selfish goals through coercive and manipulative power. Power according to Pérez López can be used incorrectly in three different ways:

  1. Unfair use of power: it is the use of the formal power to take something that belongs to other. We see in our country as top executives of public institutions, and even private, abuse this power to take advantage for something and favor people in exchange for money or favors. This kind of actions destroys the authority because it generates loss of trust.
  2. Not use power when it should be used: it is the duty of an executive or official to use the formal power to ensure that the necessary minimums of efficacy-economic results-and of positive learning-attractiveness-are achieved. If the executive fails in this task, his subordinates will no longer trust his professional competence. Not using the formal power when the achievement of results that are necessary for all those who are involved in the organization, or a society, is at stake, reveals a serious lack of managerial competence. In our society we see daily regrettable examples of no use of power, it is more to say that impunity is a common and constant practice, hence the phrase “everyone does what he or she wants” and so does not power is exercised when it is due. For example, at the beginning of the Via Expresa in the district of Barranco, a very clear sign that indicates prohibited the entrance of trucks and motorcycles both to this way and to the Circuit of beaches, and yet, it is observed that this type of vehicles enter continuously, and there is simply no one who enforces this important rule. This impedes the safe and rapid flow of cars in addition to generate higher risks of accidents. Another case, at the intersection of Javier Prado Avenue and Pershing Avenue between the districts of Jesus Maria and San Isidro, a very important intersection, there is a sign indicating the prohibition of turning to the right or to the left, depending on the route through which the vehicle circulates, but almost nobody follows this, causing a tremendous congestion every day as there is a high traffic constantly. However there is no official or public executive exercising the power in order to control this chaos. If one asks about who is responsible for this situation, it is more likely that no one will assume it and blame each other.
  3. Useless use of power: in some cases power is exercised in a useless manner, for example when there are excessive rules or contradictory rules. A simple example, in the district of Miraflores near the Via Expresa on Diez Canseco street, there is a traffic light that incredibly shows the green light for two roads, that is, vehicles from both roads can pass at the same time, which besides being absurd can cause collisions if a driver does not notice carefully. Incredible but real. In other cases, in the public sector diverse rules and laws are issued and maintained for different purposes, which generate confusion and disorder, without the corresponding officials being interested in fixing this situation. This kind of situations facilitates a big problem in this country: corruption. Excessive bureaucracy and useless use of power that creates discouragement and makes life difficult for citizens.

These and other experiences that we live in our society cause that people cannot foster credibility and trust in the public and also private institutions. Thus, there is really no authority, in different sectors and levels. If there is no authority, there is no leadership, according to our anthropological view, so we ask ourselves: where have the leaders gone?

Then, leadership demands something that is not usually observed in many executives or officials in public and private sector: doing things as if they are for one self or for whom one loves, which undoubtedly leads to the field of transcendent motives. But also, they need something that Pérez López always emphasized: Guts, courage. That is the firm character to overcome the own difficulties and temptations and work hardly for others. The character is crucial to forge commitment to do his best for others, to really serve others. It is the character of authentic service leadership that is most lacking in public and private organizations. This leadership is sustained through humility that fosters continuous learning and the attitude of sacrifice and commitment for a worthwhile cause. This transcendent attitude definitely is the biggest lack that we saw in organizations, hence the moral setback in our society.

We synthesize these ideas in the following way: every human organization is created to serve specific clients, users or citizens. To deliver great service it is not only about designing processes, tasks, rules, standards, and adding technologies to meet specific requirements or needs. It involves people’s competencies and behaviors so that they are able to solve problems and provide solutions according to each situation. But beyond that, it demands coherent attitudes from all employees and especially from those who hold power, so that they consolidate their authority and become consistent service leaders. This leadership is the pillar to create an enriched climate of service where people learn and grow, in an environment that is reinforced by a solid culture through each decision and action. That type of leadership is needed around the world and particularly in Peru. We need worthy examples for the new generations: leaders who know how to fulfill their institutional mission, and above all their personal mission.

[1] Schein, E. (2010)

[2] Schneider,  B., Ehrhart, M., Mayer, D., Saltz, J., Niles-jolly, K. (2005)

[3] Pérez López, J.A., (2000)

[4] Pérez López, J.A. (2000)



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