Leadership Challenge: Responsibility without Authority

by Alli Polin on September 5, 2012

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I’ve seen it over an over – a leader is given responsibility for a task and never really handed the full reigns to get it done. In fact, I’ve been there and I’m guessing that you have too.

A few years ago, I took a job as a Vice President responsible for a large-scale change management effort. The entire senior leadership team was new to the organization and we were all excited and filled with energy and ideas on how we could turn around a struggling business unit. Together, with the Senior Vice President that I reported to, we scoped out the organization structure that we thought was needed for the division to be successful. I was supposed to have a significant team helping me with the change management, leadership development and other programs that we wanted to accomplish over the year. Unfortunately, the very top people decided that he could only hire the first level leadership on the org chart and all of the other people could be hired “in time”. No surprise that we failed. Miserably. My boss never really had the authority to get the job done and as a result, neither did I. Every step had approval after approval after approval.