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Monday, March 27, 2006

Leadership Lessons from Cheech and Chong

On our way out to Iowa, we arrived to the Denver airport and began to look for parking. The surface lot, for $5 a day seemed like the way to go, so we drove and drove and drove until finally we got to the surface shuttle lot. We were given instructions to go ahead and park anywhere. Seasoned veterans of shuttle lots, we surveyed the closest shuttle, surmised its path and pulled into a slot which would allow us time to gather our bags, walk to the shuttle stop and directly step onto the approaching shuttle without breaking stride.

As I was almost ready to put the car in park I noticed a white cargo van speeding toward our position and the driver waving her arms.

“What is her problem?” Deann asked.

I rolled down my window and the driver of the white van stuck her head out the window and… - Let me pause right here. Have you ever seen the Cheech and Chong movie where they smoke that huge doobie, which is actually a paper towel tube wrapped in paper and smoke is pouring out of the windows so you can’t even see them inside the car? Well, I think she had seen the movie multiple times and idolized the ganja smoking duo because (un-pause) as she stuck her head out the window, I could see her eyes were quite glazed over and her speech wasn’t the crispest. Her first words were “Hey – you can’t park here” Looking around at the 20 or so other parked cars I was surrounded by, I immediately vocalized my thoughts.

“Why not?” I said as I simultaneously read "Denver International Airport Authority" on the door of her van and the matching words and logo on her hat and jacket and probably the ID badge I could only see the top of.

A dumb question (obviously she had the authority to make me do whatever she wanted) asked to a dumb person (at least I felt chemically induced dumbness) gets a dumb answer.

“Uh, because we’re having a speed race tomorrow and we don’t want any damage to occur to your car.”

I thought about it, but refrained from asking any more questions about what kind of speed test can you actually conduct in an airport shuttle parking lot. Whatever she wanted to do in this parking lot, or in that van was good enough for me, I’ll just quietly move my vehicle to wherever you specify and be on my way.

Obviously I obeyed her authority and moved my car. Obviously I didn’t respect her authority. When you are given authority, it doesn’t automatically come with leadership status. Don’t assume it does.

Some differences between authority and leadership:
  1. Authority is obeyed but not always respected; Leadership is followed as well as respected
  2. Authority can be given; Leadership must be earned
  3. Authority uses consequences to enforce its rules; Leadership doesn’t use consequences to motivate, instead it uses common goals, encouragement and momentum to accomplish the same things.
  4. Authority can create a feeling of resentment and spite towards the individual, a larger group represented by the individual, or both; Leadership creates a desire to belong to a larger group.
  5. Authority gets compliance; Leadership gets commitment.