Christian Herter was the governor of Massachusetts in the 1950s. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes and going without lunch, he arrived at an evening barbecue. Herter was famished.
As he moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving the chicken. She put a piece of chicken on his plate and turned to the next person in line:
“Excuse me,” Governor Herter said, “do you mind if I have another piece?”
“Sorry,” she told him. “I’m only allowed to give one piece to each person.”
“But I’m starved,” the governor said.
“Sorry. Only one per person.”
Governor Herter was usually an unassuming man, but this time he decided to throw a little weight around. “Do you know who I am?” he asked. “I am the governor of this state.”
“Do you know who I am?” the woman replied. “I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister.”
Authority is a funny thing. Christian Herter was a man of authority, but the chicken lady showed him just how far his authority reached.
Noted economist, sociologist, and historian, Max Weber is probably one of the most well-known authors on the topic of authority. He classified three types of authority: traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational. As with many other classifications, these categories are not absolute and can change or be interchanged. Ultimately, no matter how much authority we think we possess, there is only so much we have true ‘control’ over. With that common understanding, we can direct our energy and focus to make an impact and a difference by using our ‘authority’ for good.
As non-profit leaders, we can focus our own ‘authority’ on improving our relationships, building our teams, strengthening our organizations, growing partnerships, and engaging in other proactive measures to ensure success. And, it just might help us get another piece of chicken in the process.