Look at the relationship between the English words authority and author. It’s almost as if this language conspired to remind us that authority is about intrinsic power to write one’s way into new realities, interpretations, and ways of being.
What I didn’t know until recently is that there’s also an etymological relationship between author and authentic. To be authentic means to be real and genuine; authentic also implies the first instance, source, or origin of a thing. No imitation. No down-the-assembly-line model. The authentic instance is the original.
Leaders don’t necessarily invent: we don’t all need to become an Edison or a Walker. As leaders, we do get to cultivate the prime instance of an approach or experience. Whether we create something entirely new or redevelop something old in unique ways, the one thing we’re sure to have authority over is ourselves.
Who teaches the acorn that it’s allowed to grow into an oak tree? Who approves the transition of the panther cub into an adult big cat? Who gives you permission to write, or design, or make music, or launch a business? While there’s bureaucracy in registering companies or publishing books and music, there’s no bureaucracy involved in you accepting yourself and whatever it is that you uniquely bring into the world.
There’s no need for you to seek permission or approval for whatever you are or will become. It’s not a matter of consensus.
How you work with others given who you are is a matter of consensus and respectful negotiation. But who you are is not.
Sometimes we ask for peer permission to do things we know we’re called to do. It seems humble and deferential but it’s more often a way to delay and deny our own truth. It’s a stalling tactic, and it’s also extremely effective!
Should others encourage us despite our own resistance, we can play coy and dismiss them. If others mirror our resistance and discourage us, we can treat their doubt as fact. Either way we get to dissociate from what we know and we externalize the authority we already have to make it real.
This can go on for our whole lives if we want it to: we have the authority to do that. The good news is that we also have the authority to give up the game whenever we’re ready.
Nothing’s as unnerving as a forerunner who isn’t sure they wish to race, and nothing more compelling than a leader who has committed to becoming themselves and therefore can support you in your own personal and professional unfolding.