Authority or leadership: which do you embrace?

by | May 7, 2022

I tagged along as a nanny of sorts with some family on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. As soon as we arrived in the city and I took in the adobe buildings and the green chile–I made a vow that someday I would call Santa Fe home. 

The move to the high desert came after my two years living in the Panamanian tropics on an island in the Peace Corps. Sometimes I like extremes. 

My role as the Training Manager for the still under construction Hilton Santa Fe Resort and Spa at Buffalo Thunder (accurate full name) brought me to New Mexico. It would also be what drove me out. 

A few weeks before the official opening, the wave of New Hire Orientation (NHO) began. The resort was still under construction so I carted my flipcharts up a steep hill to a chapel that was on the property and preached NHO non-stop for about 3 weeks leading up to the grand opening. 

Have you had those projects in your life that exhaust you–but also exhilarate you with the challenge, the hope, the possibility of creating something new? This was one of those times. 

I distinctly remember the moment in the orientation when the GM would arrive to meet the team and to throw some inspiration down. He played a clip from Dead Poet’s Society about making choices and taking responsibility. He talked about empowerment and would use a bellowing voice and an invisible Excalibur sword visualization. His point was that it wasn’t up to HIM to bestow empowerment on the team–they were already empowered to make the place amazing! To do the right thing! To create an amazing experience! 

During those first few orientations, I would stand to the side and watch him with pride, wonder, and inspiration. I drank in every word, every concept, every image of an amazing, empowered, unified team where people could be heard, where everyone was equal, and where everyone mattered. As he finished, I would encourage a rousing round of applause–I couldn’t even contain MY applause because he was preaching exactly what I was selling. Goosebumps all around! 

Then, a strange thing happened. 

I passed Tim in the hallway one morning and say, “Hey Tim!”  and he looked at me with a confused look on his face as if he didn’t recognize me, and kept on walking. 

Hmmm, I thought. That’s weird. 

Shortly after that moment, it dawned on me he never actually attended a full orientation. He swept in, did his part, and then swept out. He had no idea of what I was sharing with the team, the messaging that every single person, except him, heard during orientation. 

I can still hear the same speech he shouted at every staff meeting about “overtime being the number one controllable cost!” The fact that he discussed it weekly made me believe that the ops managers couldn’t actually control it. Or perhaps they had tuned out his rote agenda and talking points. 

As time went on, when he graced the team with his presence during orientation, my original look of admiration and inspiration turned to embarrassment. 

No longer did I hang on every word, I stood in the back looking away because I knew it was all a farce. 

Embarrassment soon shifted to pure annoyance, because while he talked a good game, at that point, I knew it was all a load of crap. It got to the point I hoped he forgot to come to the orientations so I wouldn’t have to pretend to care about what he was saying. 

Like the Brittany Spears classic, I realized I did it again. I jumped in, believing every word he said. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, my respect, and my trust because he was the GM after all. I assumed sinced he had earned the authority of that position, he embraced the responsibility of leadership. 

But no. Add him to the fairly long list of past leaders who took the title, the clout, and the authority and soaked that all in, but ignored the responsibility of leading. 

The responsibility of aligning behaviors and words and actions and values. 

In every situation with these bosses, my tendency was to question myself and think about what could I have done differently. I asked myself why must I always have on the rose-colored glasses? Am I too trusting? Am I naive? What’s the alternative, be cynical?

Wrong questions. This isn’t on me. Or you, if this scenario sounds familiar.

The questions I ask now are of leaders. Are you walking your talk? Have YOU earned your authority? How are you using that authority? What do your actions and behaviors say? 

Sometimes I get real granular: Do you say hello and respond with your employee’s name when they greet you? Or do you brush them off and walk on by?

That moment that Tim walked by, not recognizing me in the hall when he acted like my BFF during orientations burst my bubble. It smacked those rose-colored glasses off of my face. Looking back, it was the beginning of the end of my time there.  

I would come to realize, if the man at the top can’t align his words, behaviors, and actions, there’s no standard for anyone else to do the same. 

With authority comes great power and influence. 

With leadership comes great responsibility to align your words and actions. 

Do you own your authority or your leadership responsibilities more?


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