“Just because you can” is a terrible leadership mentality. This is a way of thinking that a leader or a company can fall into where the consideration of others becomes secondary to what someone in authority wants. An example of this that won’t soon be forgotten are the video images of a United Airlines passenger being physically dragged from his airline seat in order to make room for a United employee to have the seat. While the airline was within their rights by the details of the ticket purchase to bump the passenger to another flight, they also became a prime example of how “just because you can” will end up making you the bad guy.

An unwise leader trades influencing with vision for leading by authority.

There are many obvious examples where people need to be forced to do things they don’t want. We don’t like paying taxes but we must so that vital government services can continue. We may not like driving a certain speed limit but must because of overall safety considerations. All decisions can’t be simply made by the will of the people. What we have to be careful of, however, is when positional authority allows an attitude to believe one may make decisions carrying real-life consequences on others “just because they can.” At this point the leader has traded influencing with vision for leading by authority, an unwise gamble. Once one no longer leads by vision they begin to lose buy-in. When buy-in is lost then a loss of productivity and focus on behalf of the team is inevitable. It takes patience and self-checks not to abuse positional authority. Here are three quick self-checks for doing so:

When you have authority you can use it to get what you want but how does the imposition of your will enable the people whose skills are a resource you are to steward?

#1 Ask yourself “Is this personal?”

We all have our “small” moments where pettiness and selfishness creeps in. Check yourself on why you want the action to happen. Is it truly because of a benefit to the work or the work group? Is it more of a passion of yours that you are now trying to impose on others? Or, the question none of us like, are you just frustrated and now imposing your will? Before moving forward make sure people understand and hear the “why” of the decision and not just “do this or….”

#2 Ask yourself “Is this worth the long-term cost?”

It’s easy to slip into “just win” mentalities but there are great risks in not considering long term damage. Look at the United example. The person in charge of the situation had a job to do in accommodating the request to get crew on the plane even if it meant bumping passengers. At some point this flipped from working with the person to solve the problem to solving it through simple authority. Again, it was within the airline’s rights to do but how did that work out for them? The next day the company was worth hundreds of millions of dollars less. The objective of getting the seat open was achieved but possibly a billion people around the world have seen footage of a paying passenger being dragged from the plane. Was it worth getting that seat open for all the bad publicity?

#3 Ask yourself “Am I devaluing people?”

As Christian leaders our actions have to stop at this point. We believe all people are of value to God and should be treated as such. When you have authority you can use it to get what you want but how does the imposition of your will enable the people whose skills are a resource you are to steward? Leadership sometimes means making unpopular decisions but these have to be done with clarity of vision and never at the expense of deprecating others. A common comparison is a bank account. You can invest in your account or make withdrawals from it. Too many withdrawals means depleting the account. Your influence is just the same. Too many positional withdrawals will bankrupt your influence. It is also the job of leadership to grow others in their ability to handle their work. Remove enough decisions and input from them and you will lose your influence.

As it is said leadership is an art and not a science. What this means is there is no strict formula and mistakes are going to be made time from time (see former post on mistakes). Overuse and abuse of positional authority, or making the decision simply because you can, is a prime way to erode your influence and inhibit your team’s performance. Choose instead to lead with clarity of vision and empowerment to best enable you to succeed in your goals.

Go Deeper:

When leading, what should come first, the urgent or the important?

Avoid the temptation to micromanage

How then, do you effectively lead your peers?

Learn three things you can do today to kill your influence amongst your team!