A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
July 1st, 2013 by William

The No Authority Gauntlet

Last week’s post dealt with the difference between what organizational accountability usually means and what it should mean. I also detailed the different types of accountability–vertical and horizontal–and their importance to a healthy organization’s culture. Organizational accountability is most critical in the ranks of middle management and front line supervision. Don’t misunderstand executives at the top and the workers at the bottom of the pyramid should also be held accountable for their job performance, but nowhere is it more critical to the successful functioning of an organization than in the ranks of those caught in between–middle management.

For a manager the key to achieving results is having the necessary authority (that includes resources) to perform the job, in accordance with the job description, to achieve the goals set by the organization.

Are you a manager? Are you held accountable for your performance and that of your direct reports? Do you believe that you have the authority necessary to accomplish your job function? If you said yes, think again, and ask yourself this question: is my authority limited to making decisions; but having to get approval from above before implementing those decisions? In other words do you have to “check” first with your boss about everything?

Here’s an example. When you need to hire someone to perform a job do you need upper management approval? Is there an exhausting justification process you must go through, i.e., “the bring me another rock routine?”  Does your boss have to be part of the interview process? Does the final hiring decision depend on your boss’s decision about the candidate? Do you have a say in the salary that will be offered–or is it set by your boss?

If you answered yes to these then you DON’T really have authority.

There’s a lot of talk these days about “empowerment” and “empowering” employees. Organizations hide behind these words. However, in practice being empowered is NOT always the same as having authority to do your job. The definition of authority is; the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. Empowerment is defined as; to give power or authority; authorize; to enable or permit. Based on these definitions we see that empowerment “is” authority and at the core of the concept of empowerment is the idea of power. So when upper management says you are “empowered,” have they really given you the power to do your job or are they empty words?

The possibility of empowerment depends on two things. First, empowerment requires that power, or authority, has been delegated through the organization. If authority is inherent in middle management positions, then empowerment throughout all the organization is possible. If authority isn’t granted to middle management then empowerment is not possible, plain and simple. Thus, in practice authority truly needs to come first before empowerment can be realized.

In the book Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute, the authors, Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph tell us that “empowerment is simply the effective use of a manager’s authority” In the context of this post this is a perfect description of how empowerment and authority go hand in hand.

But how does this relate to accountability?

In their article “Accountability without Authority: How to Drive Employees Crazy,” Bill Casey & Wendi Peck coin what’s called “The No Authority Gauntlet.”  They tell us, “Here’s how it works: someone has a management job, is held accountable for the successful operation of his organization, and yet does not have commensurate management authorities. In other words, this person is accountable for the work of others, but with no accompanying clout. This then is “The No Authority Gauntlet.”[1]

A gauntlet is defined as; an open challenge (as to combat); a severe trial or ordeal. Or my favorite; a double file of men facing each other and armed with clubs or other weapons with which to strike at an individual who is made to run between them. In the modern world of middle management the individual “running between them” is middle management while the men facing each other are upper management on one side and the middle manager’s staff on the other side. You see without authority middle management is truly caught between a rock and a hard place–running a gauntlet.

If you are in a management position I’m sure you would agree that with that position comes a certain “responsibility.” Responsibility is defined as; the obligation to act or to do a task that one must answer for. Also I’m sure your organization says they hold you accountable. Accountability is defined as; the reckoning, when leaders must answer for their actions and accept the consequences, good or bad. This sadly is the limit to how most middle management positions are described in practice–responsible and accountable. They have responsibility and are held accountable but what’s missing is “authority;” the legitimate power of a leader to direct individuals to take action within the scope of the manager’s position.

Authority is defined as “a power or right, delegated or given.” Thus, when the subject of authority comes up you’ll hear a lot about delegation. Upper management will claim they have “delegated” the authority to the middle management ranks. However, true authority–to be the master of your own destiny–is not something that’s usually delegated.

In Gary Runn’s 2010 article “Delegation vs. Empowerment,” we find: “To delegate means to choose or elect a person to act as a representative for another.  To empower someone means to give power or authority to someone else.  Do you hear the difference?  To delegate something to someone is to only give them enough of a leash to act on your behalf–as you would for yourself.  To empower another means you give them enough power and authority to act on their own behalf.”

Alas why is the granting of the necessary authority such a hard thing to find in most organizations? It’s really quite simple actually–it’s paranoia. You see executives are held accountable for business results, and they aren’t going to let anyone cause them to fail at that. They just can’t take that chance–remember sociopaths do not trust anyone other than themselves. Part of the personality makeup of the typical sociopathic mentality is that of paranoia (and a good helping of micromanagement). The paranoia that permeates the ranks of upper management is the reason trust–the granting of authority–is such a scarce commodity in the modern workplace.


[1] The No Authority Gauntlet is practically synonymous with program/project management as these poor individuals have little power over the people who perform the work for them.


One Response to “The No Authority Gauntlet”
  1. David E Greenberg says

    Bill – you have a knack for codifying the makeup of the sociopaths in our lives. Well done (as ususal)!

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