Last Updated Mar 11, 2010 3:46 PM EST
I had a chance to talk recently with Robert Akerlof, a postdoctoral associate in applied economics at MIT Sloan School of Management about managerial authority. Akerlof's research, unlike traditional economic theory, does not run on the assumption of a fixed relationship between managers and workers (i.e., the manager tells the worker what to do, and the worker does it), but instead incorporates a sociological examination of office politics and leadership.
We spoke about a few of the things that managers do that can undermine their authority:
- 1. Giving unclear or overly complex orders: Akerlof's research found that giving simple orders was key to maintaining authority. The more complicated an order, the greater the chance that employees will interpret it to their advantage.
- 2. Hiring overqualified workers: "An overqualified worker tends to have the view that they know best," says Akerlof. "A boss' authority is in part based on the idea that they know best. So an overqualified worker can both be hard to manage and have an infectious attitude on the other workers, who will start to think, Maybe the manager doesn't really know what's best."
- 3. Paying unfair wages: One of the surest ways of earning respect -- or lack thereof -- is through an employees' pocketbook.
- 4. Going it alone: Making clear that orders (especially unpopular ones) come from headquarters can help a manager's authority. "Rely upon rules from the central office, and the central office can help by creating rules that managers can appeal to," says Akerlof.