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How CTOs Balance Power vs Authority For Ethical Leadership

The role of CTO carries a lot of weight. You stand at the forefront of your company’s technological advancements and drive innovation. But, to lead change, you must possess power and authority. While people often use these words interchangeably, they aren’t the same.  

Below, we’ll explore the differences between power and authority and provide strategies to help you toe the line for better leadership.   

Balancing Power and Authority  

Power refers to your ability to influence people and situations. Individuals can earn power through education, experience and charisma. This attribute is often viewed as subjective and must be built over time by demonstrating competence, credibility and integrity. Powerful CTOs motivate and inspire their teams. This inspiration often encourages employees to think more creatively and increases the likelihood of successful project outcomes.  

Authority is your formal right to make decisions, enforce rules, and direct actions. Unlike power, which is earned through personal attributes, authority is typically granted by an organization’s formal structure or hierarchy. Authority is often the foundation of a successful business, providing order and direction. Lack of authority often leads to confusion and can cause projects to stall. 

An effective CTO understands how to motivate their team and reach key milestones using both power and authority. But striking that balance can be challenging. Strong leaders understand how to use these attributes wisely and when to consider their team’s skills and ideas to make business decisions.  

Use the following strategies to find this equilibrium and ensure your leadership style encourages innovation and organizational success.  

Implement transparent communication and accountability

It only takes one underperforming employee to derail an entire project. This can negatively impact department morale and larger company goals. As CTO, it’s your job to ensure your organization’s technology strategy is on track. This means using your authority to hold employees accountable for their performance.  

Transparent communication is important not only for building trust but also for aligning expectations across your team. Communicating openly about company performance, goals, and changes demonstrates integrity and reliability. This helps your employees feel confident in your leadership decisions, making them more likely to respect your authority.  

Additionally, it’s your job to ensure your team is meeting performance standards. Transparent communication helps align expectations regarding roles and performance. This ensures there is a shared understanding of objectives.  

If you notice an employee falling behind, ask if they need additional resources, support, or training to complete a task. If their performance still doesn’t improve, you may need to consider a performance improvement plan or termination.  

You have a duty to your employees and your organization to cultivate a positive and productive team. Holding individuals accountable for their performance ensures your employees are surrounded by equally driven coworkers.  

Delegate authority to encourage innovation

Entrusting capable employees with decision-making power helps distribute responsibilities and fosters ownership and among your workforce. When employees are given more authority, they feel empowered to innovate and solve problems without fear of repercussions.  

While delegating authority may sound counterintuitive, it actually helps you become a better leader. With fewer responsibilities on your plate, you can focus your energy on strategic initiatives and high-priority tasks.  

CTOs hold the power to either facilitate innovation or sabotage it. As your company’s tech leader, you set the tone for what ideas are and are not encouraged. If your first response to new ideas is dismissive and critical, you’ll stifle innovation.  

Instead, use your power and influence to create an environment that encourages new ideas. Give your employees permission to take risks and understand that failure is often part of the innovation process and not something to be reprimanded, but instead a learning opportunity.  

While you may have the authority to make decisions on your own, that doesn’t mean you should. Changes you implement will often impact your entire organization, and there may be blind spots in your reasoning. Having a conversation with your team before large decisions provides a variety of viewpoints and leads to better outcomes.  

Some leaders may shy away from seeking the opinions of employees because they want to avoid added complexity. However, involving your team in decision-making gives employees the opportunity to contribute ideas and work toward a shared goal. This demonstrates that you value your team and trust their opinions, which can help build employee engagement.  

In brief

As CTO, you lead technological change within your organization. But if you want to be an effective leader, you have to balance authority and power. Knowing when to communicate and rely on your team and when you should take charge can make the difference between reaching your goals and failing to succeed.

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Michelle King Smith

Michelle is a full-time freelance content writer specializing in compelling content backed by industry research that’s fun to read and easy to understand.
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