Formal Authority vs. Moral Authority

Moral Authority

In the wake of unrest by Turkish youth over what they consider to be a blatant misinterpretation of democracy by Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the question of formal vs. moral authority has been raised.

In a recent Times op-ed, Thomas Friedman quotes executive consultant, Dov Seidman. “There are essentially just two kinds of authority: formal authority and moral authority. And moral authority is now so much more important than formal authority” in today’s interconnected world, “where power is shifting to individuals who can easily connect and combine their power exponentially for good or ill.”

Seidman points out that while formal authority is something you’re born or elected into, “Moral authority is something you have to continue to earn by how you behave, by how you build trust with your people. … Every time you exercise formal authority — by calling out the police — you deplete it. Every time you exercise moral authority, leading by example, treating people with respect, you strengthen it.”

“Any leader who wants to lead just ‘by commanding power over people should think again,’ he added. ‘In this age, the only way to effectively lead is to generate power through people,’ said Seidman, because you have connected with them ‘in a way that earned their trust and enlisted them in a shared vision.’”

These leaderships observations of course are universal.