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Education competencies: Comfort around authority

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies.


Can deal comfortably with authority figures; presents to authority figures without undue tension; understands how authority figures think and work.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Can deal with those in authority Deals comfortably with those in authority Deals comfortably and confidently with those in authority Interacts smoothly with those in authority, both inside and outside the organization
Can present to those in authority with little tension and nervousness Presents to those in authority without undue tension and nervousness Presents to those in authority with a commanding but unpretentious bearing Radiates self-confidence, poise, and charm regardless of his or her surroundings
Determines effective ways to get things done by responding to the needs of authority figures Understands how those in authority think and act; determines the best way to get things done with them by talking their language and responding to their needs Adept in assessing how others think and act; able to adapt his or her demeanor and approach to influence them Gains complete confidence and trust of authority figures by exhibiting demeanor and actions that put others at ease

Crafts approaches likely to be seen as appropriate and positive Employs a respectful and composed approach Exudes abundant unthreatening positive energy, which is regarded as pleasant and welcome

Overdoing comfort around authority

  • May be seen as too political and ambitious
  • May spend too much time with those in authority, parrot their positions, or overestimate the meaning and usefulness of the relationships
  • Career may be too dependent on champions
  • May be too free with confidential information

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:
  • What opportunities can I engage in to meet someone in authority I have not met before?
  • What event can I attend this week to interact more with authority figures in a social context?
  • Have I effectively made use of relaxation techniques when I am struggling in tense situations?
  • What responses have I prepared for anticipated questions?
  • Whom in our organization can I approach for advice on how I should behave around authority figures?
  • What autobiography will I read to better understand how top managers think?
To avoid overdoing comfort around authority, ask yourself:
  • Am I talking excessively in an attempt to appear that I belong?
  • Am I spending too much time trying to associate with authority figures?
  • Am I sharing confidential information, trying to appear informed?

Interview questions

  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your ability to interact smoothly with those in authority, both inside and outside the organization if applicable.
  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your ability to comfortably present to those in authority regardless of your surroundings.
  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your ability to gain the trust and confidence of people in authority.
  • It can be challenging to be composed, relaxed, positive, and appropriate when working with those in positions of authority. Tell me about a time that demonstrates your ability to do this.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Keep your cool: Compose yourself before the encounter, and again during the encounter, if you experience physical reactions to stress (sweating, stuttering, hyperventilating).
  • Worst-case it: List all of your worst fears, and mentally practice how you would recover from them. Pauses are better than “uhs.” Use your notes and ask questions.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Rehearse what you are going to do several times until it comes naturally. If possible, record yourself on videotape for self-assessment.
  • Visit the setting: Visit the setting of the event beforehand and, if possible, practice there. Make note of seating arrangements and sight restrictions.
  • Be time-efficient: Plan what you will say and do carefully, taking up as little time as necessary.
  • Be ready for Q & A: Anticipate questions ahead of time, and ask assistance of others to come up with questions as well. Rehearse as many answers as you can. If your argument is rejected, try to clarify to see if you have been misunderstood. Keep your responses brief.
  • Find a confidant: Ask for advice from someone qualified whom you value and trust.
  • Consider who bothers you: Make two lists: one of the people around whom you are comfortable and the other of the people around whom you are not. Note the similarities between the groups and the reasons for the comfort or discomfort. Try to adapt the techniques you use in a comfortable situation to the uncomfortable one.
  • Get to know more authority figures: Meet with those in authority in informal settings (receptions or social, athletic, and charity events).
  • Find out how those in authority think: Read the biographies of several “great” people, and observe their view of people. Then read several autobiographies of “great” people and observe the same. Consider things you can do differently or better.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Integrate diverse systems, processes, or procedures across decentralized or dispersed units.
  • Write a proposal for a new policy, process, or procedure and present it to others.
  • Relaunch an existing project or procedure that is not going well.
  • Manage a group through a significant crisis.
  • Write a speech for someone in authority in your organization.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Use multiple models. Select role models of towering strengths (or glaring weaknesses). Learn from characteristics rather than from the whole person.
    • Be a student of others. Study their behavior and what’s effective and ineffective. Adapt what you learn to improve yourself.
    • Learn from those in authority. Distance yourself from your feelings, and analyze what these authority figures do and do not do well. Choose to imitate the successful behavior.
    • Learn from mentors and tutors. Be open and non-defensive; solicit and accept feedback.
    • Learn from remote models. Read a book or an article about someone, and observe what they do and don’t do well.
    • Consolidate what you learn from people. Write down rules or principles you learn and share them with others.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Be open to feedback. Ask for examples and details; listen, take notes, and keep a journal.
    • Learn from poor authority figures. Determine what makes them bad examples, if you are part of the problem, and if others regard them in the same way. Avoid reacting out of anger and frustration, and decide to not imitate poor behavior.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a strategic course. Stretch your thinking to prepare for and anticipate future challenges.

Recommended readings

  • Alveson, Mats.Understanding Organizational Culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002.
  • Arredondo, Lani.Communicating Effectively. New York: McGraw-Hill Trade, 2000.
  • Bing, Stanley.Throwingthe Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up. New York: HarperBusiness, 2002.
  • Bolton, Robert, and Dorothy Grover Bolton.People Styles at Work—Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better. New York: AMACOM, 1996.
  • Capon, Claire.Understanding Organizational Context. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
  • Chaleff, Ira.The Courageous Follower: Standing Up to and for Our Leaders. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publisher, Inc., 2003.
  • Charan, Ram.What the CEO Wants You to Know: How Your Company Really Works. New York: Crown Business Publishing, 2001.
  • Dobson, Michael Singer.Managing Up! 59 Ways to Build a Career-Advancing Relationship with Your Boss. New York: AMACOM, 2000.
  • Gittines, Roger, and Rosanne Badowski.Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You. New York: Currency, 2003.
  • Hayes, John.Interpersonal Skills at Work. New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • Jay, Ros.How to Manage Your Boss: Developing the Perfect Working Relationship. London: Financial Times Management, 2002.
  • Kummerow, Jean M., Nancy J. Barger, and Linda K. Kirby.Work Types. New York: Warner Books, 1997.
  • Weiner, David L., and Robert E. Lefton.Power Freaks: Dealing With Them in the Workplace or Anyplace. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.