Crippled CEO Blog #079:
Earlier this week, the wonderful, conscientious, superbly detailed, on point, and all-around joy to be around Hunter Zumino was on the phone with a customer. I overheard her say, “… he’s kinda like my boss.” I thought she was talking about me, so when the call ended, I jokingly said, “Just kinda like your boss?”
It turns out she was referring to somebody else, and she added, “I said it like that because, besides you, I don’t know who my boss is.”
And there’s a reason for that. I had just never explained it to her, and I’m not sure I have really ever explained it anywhere.
Business school will tell you that there are five types of authority in the workplace, but I prefer to boil this down to two.
The primary form of authority that people think of at work is what I call Positional Authority. As the name implies, this is where someone has authority over you because of their position or their title. They are clearly defined as your boss or supervisor, directly or indirectly. They have ultimate control over everything you do at your job and all of the decisions you make.
I’m not a huge fan of this style of authority. You do need it sometimes. In the warehouse at Life Saver, for instance, you need one or two people directing traffic so that the entire shop is on the right track. But that’s all we have out there. There are roughly 25 employees in the warehouse, and we still don’t have assistant managers or division managers. The production manager and the operations manager co-lead all of them. Besides that, the hierarchy is entirely flat.
The same thing goes in the office. The only person explicitly “in charge“ is me, even though there are seven of us in the office, and eleven total, including people working remotely.
Instead of Positional Authority, I prefer Knowledge Authority.
As I told Hunter the other day, who is and isn’t her boss, and vice versa, depends on the topic being discussed. In certain things, she’s going to be the most knowledgeable, so when it comes to that, she is the authority. She is the boss of that thing. Other people should defer to her expertise and decisions. And things where she isn’t as knowledgeable, she asks the person who is, and then for that thing, right then, they have the authority. A couple weeks ago, I asked her to show me how to issue a refund for a customer with the newer online sales platform we use, that I don’t have much experience with. While she was telling me how to do that, she was in charge of that process. She was acting as my supervisor/my boss.
When it’s not clear who knows more, and there’s a disagreement about how to move forward, then a discussion is had to figure it out. Ultimately, I’m available to make the final call if there’s an impasse — due to my Positional Authority as the CEO — but also because I have been at Life Saver the longest and likely have a degree of expertise on the topic.
Giving people the opportunity to be the authority/in charge specifically in the moments where they are the most qualified makes a lot more sense to me than giving one person total control of a group, any of whom may be more knowledgeable in certain areas and might be the best person to make decisions on those topics.
Letting the person “in charge” be fluid, changing to best suit the situation, seems like a much smarter approach in many scenarios.
(Do you know who always wants me to be in charge? Your mom. She loves it when I tell her what to do. But one thing I never have to tell her to do is subscribe to my weekly text with a link to the latest blog. Just send a text to the number 484848 with the word CRIP and I’ll send you a link to the newest blog posts every Sunday or your money back.)