What’s the Difference Between Power and Authority?

Most definitions for the words power and authority are vague, interrelated, and unclear. (Check here and here to see for yourself.) Likewise, definitions for the word authority often use the word power in the definition for authority. And as you might surmise, definitions for the word power often reference the term authority.

Which is which? Why have two words for the same general concept? Why two words? What exactly is authority? What exactly is power? What’s the difference?

What gives here? Is it any wonder we often are confused by the behavioral dimensions of authority and power in the workplace? How do we navigate this total lack of clarity about something so essential to being a social human being?

If you want to know about power, I strongly suggest you first study authority. There is no better place to do that than a Group Relations Conference. (See related links below.) At these conferences, we get to study leadership and authority in groups, in the here-and-now. These “conferences” can be quite unusual and are definitely NOT for everyone.

As a result of attending these Group Relations conferences, I have learned to hold two simple definitions that help to clarify objective reality when participating in groups. I teach these two specific definitions when coaching executives and Agile teams.

Understanding the nature of the difference between power and authority is important. When you understand the difference, and the nature of the difference, you can more fully realize what is going on when you interact with people in organizations, like where you work. Your family also qualifies as an organization.

As do any (online) groups where you have membership.


Here are the definitions I use when dealing with issues of authority and power. We must define authority first….

Authority: (noun) The right to do work.

Power: (noun) The exercise of authority.


Now, that didn’t hurt very much, did it?

I hope you consider using these definitions, try them on, and see how they work for you. You might be surprised at just how much clarity you can get from using these definitions.

You might also start to notice that most all organizational and family dysfunctions are driven by authority dynamics.

This has serious implications for those attempting successful Agile adoptions.


Related Links:

Group Relations Community:

http://www.akriceinstitute.org (watch the short video)

BART: Boundary, Authority, Role and Task:



Organizational Transhumanism

There is a lot of talk about transhumanism, the idea that we can augment our bodies and minds with technology and in so doing, evolve as a species. This is an interesting and very real trend with many interesting dimensions.

The root word of the term corporation is ‘corpus’,  the Latin term for ‘body’.

Enterprises– corporations—  have been engaged in augmenting their ‘bodies’, their, ‘corpus‘, for a very long time.

Organizational transhumanism is a reality. Banks execute thousands of trades per second using computer programs. Insurance companies play the odds with a very high degree of accuracy using sophisticated software technology.

The typical successful business organization is actively transhuman. Most businesses cannot function without interfacing with technology. The best businesses are out-flanking and out-competing the others by actively creating systems that co-create, with humans, a whole new way of working.

These systems have a name: sociotechnical systems. Not fully human, not fully machine, sociotechnical systems are those systems that successfully connect and then leverage the best of both….to create something new.

Sociotechnical systems are systems that blend hardware and software technologies with the sociocultural structures of the organization.

This is transhumanism applied to organizations. To achieve it, the organization must be relentless about questioning assumptions about reality, dealing in differences, and acting quickly to exploit and fully leverage the current best idea. Working in this kind of org is not comfortable for most people.

Super-rational organizations that “get” this concept are not issuing press releases. Instead, they are quietly leveraging software development teams to create custom software that creates a huge set of sociotechnical business advantages.

It’s not an accident that the best Agile software teams are usually found working in extremely successful businesses. It’s correlated.


NOTE: Sociotechnical systems are covered in my next book, being being written now. If you want early insider access to this writing as it evolves, get on the THE CULTURE GAME mailing list now.

Click here to learn more about THE CULTURE GAME book.


Sociotechnical Systems: Related Links







In Praise of the Naked RT

I told you earlier why quoting Tweets is OK, but might be suboptimal. And in that same post, I explained the virtue of the RT over the QuoteTweet. When you quote or RT, you are making an intentional choice.

Choose well!

Now I’m here to tell you how to change the world with your RTs.


Expressing LOVE For Someone’s ideas Online

Your 1-click RT is actually a way to express LOVE for someone online. Here’s how….

As explained before, you boost a Twitter user’s authority rank by doing a “naked” RT. A naked RT is a straight 1-click RT with no comments in it. Click. Done.

We have no control over how Google and Twitter create the rules for ranking. What we do have control over is how we play. Until further notice, the naked RT is the single most leveraged act of agency you can engage in. That one click takes you a microsecond and has the potential to start and/or be part of something very BIG that you align and agree with. The naked RT is a super-leveraged power tool.

Your naked RT has potential power to change the world, because it increases the velocity of spread of a single person’s ideas. It also bumps their presence and authority ranking online. Therefore, if most of what that person says really clicks with you, and you do a naked RT on their Tweets, you supply the the motivation, the ability and the trigger for others who follow you to do exactly the same.

Duh !

The implications of this are absolutely huge. It means an unknown Twitter user (even some super-bright kid) who has super-attractive, super-high-quality thinking can “come of nowhere” and rapidly get instant traction and memetic spread via YOUR followers. And you are making this happen and in fact become part of a potentially much bigger story when you “RT naked.”

If you quote them instead of using the naked-RT, you slow everything down. Plus it’s not nice, especially if you have more followers than the author!

This is why you rarely if ever see me quoting a Tweet. I RT you, naked, instead. And if I RT you, it’s because I want your ideas to spread as fast as possible. That’s why I do it.

The fastest way on the planet to spread an idea quickly across the whole earth is the 1-click “naked RT“. This single and highly purposeful act of agency has potentially very huge network effects.

If you want to change the status-quo, you must take action to spread the ideas you think are the best. There is no faster or more leveraged way to do that than the naked RT on Twitter. There is also no faster way to help someone else.

The 1-click RT is a form of expressing LOVE for a person, and their ideas, online. With one click….

  • It elevates the authority ranking of the author;
  • It increases the velocity of ideas having sex;
  • It encourages your followers to RT again, with ONE CLICK, leveraging exponential network effects….
  • It is a clear micropayment of support and encouragement for the tweet author (which costs you nothing);
  • You sidestep the ugly business of RT hijacking (which is something you DO NOT want to be associated with);
  • It is the right thing to do.

Do the right thing. When you see good work, go naked!

BUT WAIT: What if I want to COMMENT on or ADD TO the Thought in That Tweet?

If you want to comment or add to a Tweet you adore, consider RTing it naked with 1-click FIRST, then Tweet your own comment as the next, separate serial Tweet in your stream. ‘cc:’ the author of the RT if you like. The RT-first honors (and expresses love for the thinking of) the original author, it gives them a nice little bump in authority, AND it provides you with 140 characters to express yourself more fully in a comment-space that has up to  140 characters.

1-click that Tweet with a naked RT. And encourage others to do the same…and explain why!

You’ll do a world of good.










Retweet (RT) Hijacking

Do you value increasing your authority online OVER being courteous and nice to other people? (I hope not!)

Do you like to be helpful to other folks? (I hope so!)

Is quoting a tweet (when you could retweet it) being very helpful?  (No!)


Authority Online

Twitter re-Tweets are worth something.  Quite a bit actually. Did you know that? They have substantial authority value online. Google uses them to rank you. As do others. Don’t think so? Read up on it (see the related links below)

Fact: The RT is now used by Google and others as an authority metric. This is a BIG deal….


ReTweet (RT) Hijacking

Quoting a tweet instead of retweeting is not very helpful…especially if you have more followers than the original author of that tweet!

It not only  ‘steals the thunder’ of the other person,  it also does nothing to encourage your followers to retweet that user.

So, what is RT hijacking? It’s when you choose to quote a Tweet instead of actually doing a real, legit RT.

Remember, when you RT, you are doing that person an entire world of good by raising their RT count and therefore, their authority rating online.

Giving someone an RT is doing them a nice favor. It’s a very friendly gesture online!

RT hijacking looks like you are doing the other person a favor, but actually you are not!

The act of choosing to quote a Tweet instead of retweeting is actually not at all helpful!

Here is why: you are, at a minimum, not encouraging your followers to also RT the original author. You are not lending them your network. When you RT a specific Tweet from someone else, you encourage your followers to do exactly the same. And when you RT, you make it easy for your followers to “follow suit” and RT with ONE SIMPLE CLICK.

So, at the minimum, when you choose to quote a Tweet, you are not encouraging  your followers to RT the original Tweet!

At the maximum, you are gathering RT authority for yourself!


Here is how it works:


1. You (PERSON-A) issue a great Tweet, maybe it has a link in it.  The text might be something like this….

Here is my clever saying. Here is a related clever link (link here)


2. PERSON-B now hijacks and publishes that Tweet, as a quote, like this:

RT Here is my clever saying. Here is a related clever link (link here)” via @YourName


This quote is NOT a ReTweet!

It’s a hijack of PERSON-A’s Tweet, see?

Any followers of PERSON-B who RT this are retweeting a copy. They are not retweeting the original author, PERSON-A!

Also notice: When you choose to quote a Tweet rather then RT, you are choosing. It’s a choice!

Question: Even if “quoting a Tweet” is a 1-click action, like RT, as it is on some phones, why choose the “quote” option over the RT ? There is an obvious choice, why intentionally choose “quote tweet” over “retweet” ?



What gives here? Simple:

1. It is now simpler for the many followers of PERSON-B to simply retweet PERSON-B’s hijacked (copied) version of PERSON-A’s Tweet!

And that is exactly what most followers of PERSON-B do. They RT the PERSON-B copy of PERSON-A’s tweet.

No follower of PERSON-B is going to track down PERSON-A and RT the original. Why would they?

Net result? PERSON-B is now getting RTs (and more authority) powered by the clever, attractive, valuable “quoted” Tweet of PERSON-A.

I notice this behavior a lot from people with around 10,000 followers or more. People with over 10,000 followers obviously know the Twitter game and are not ignorant (or otherwise casual) users.

Do these sophisticated users of Twitter understand what they are doing? I’m guessing YES.

The facts are these:

  • When people quote a Tweet, they do so deliberately. They are choosing. Often there is more effort involved as well!
  • Quoting a Tweet does nothing to encourage your followers to RT the original author!
  • Quoting an attractive Tweet from someone else has at least the potential to increase your RT count.
  • Because RTs are valued and counted by Google and Twitter, retweeting someone else’s Tweet is a big win for them. It’ a very friendly gesture.

Quoting their Tweet is not!

And when PERSON-B quoting a tweet has a 10-to-1 or otherwise huge difference in followers, this is an especially rude practice, because you are denying them the potential “RT-ripple-effect” of your network!

So? Be nice.

The Moral of the Story:

  • Be nice! Do not quote Tweets, since they do nothing for the original author in authority terms.
  • Be nice! Retweeting others as much as possible is helpful, and friendly.
  • Be nice! Retweeting sets up the potential for even more RTs of that Tweet…from others who follow you! That’s very helpful to the author!
  • Be courteous! Quoting a Tweet when you can RT with one click is rude! Stop doing that!

Be a force for good: use your Twitter reach to help others build up their authority and presence online, via the RT feature of Twitter.

Stop quoting Tweets …and help give the author a little bump in authority online, by intentionally retweeting them instead, and in so doing, encouraging your followers to do the same.

If you want to comment on an interesting Tweet, ReTweet is, then say whatever you want to say with your next Tweet. Be nice.

Related Post: In Praise of the Naked RT

Related Links:


Functional Stupidity

Some of what looks like lack of smartness is actually good for stability of an organization. How does this work?

Organizations that constantly learn are constantly in flux and experiencing ambiguity … and usually, more than a little anxiety and mixed feelings. Constant learning is stressful and constantly adapting to change means constant changes to practices and policies.

“Functional Stupidity” serves the purposes of leaders who value stability over learning and adaptation. As such, it may be rational in the short-run to optimize on stability. Can Functional Stupidity be useful in the long run?

Probably not.

The tradeoff between stability and learning is a classic trade-off between getting a quick, short-run fix, versus crafting a long-run solution.

Good policy (“we optimize on learning”) usually makes you worse, then better. Bad policy (“we optimize on stability”) provides a quick fix…and a longer-term compounding of the larger organizational learning problem.

Read the intriguing paper: A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations

Agile Coaching Values

Agile Coaches are familiar with the patterns of naive and vulnerable client organizations that are new to Agile. In my view, Agile Coaching pros have an obligation to help clients understand what is best for them. This always includes helping the client take 100% responsibility for their own learning. This usually means the coach must refuse opportunities to play a larger role.

Being there, 5 days a week, full time, for 3 months or more can be lucrative and hard to resist. As coaching professionals, we do our best by serving the learning of the client organization. This includes challenging the client org to take 100% responsibility to reach a self-sustaining state of Agility without the need for an external coach.

These Agile Coaching values and principles listed below are a good and solid basis for guiding coach-client relationships and interactions. These values and principles are listed in the familiar ‘agile manifesto‘ format.

The content- the values and principles- are optimizing towards the continuous, progressive and ongoing organizational learning of the coached organization.

NOTE: These values and principles listed here are re-posted with permission from www.FreeStandingAgility.com.


In serving our clients, we have come to value:

Creating Independence over generating billing
Championing Learning over avoiding risk
Building Relationships over building transactions
Inviting Participation over assigning responsibility


We use these Principles to guide our work with clients:

Voluntary engagement of everyone involved in organizational change is an essential requirement for success.

Coaching every single day in an organization creates a serious risk of client dependency and is to be avoided, consistent with common sense and good judgement with respect to client needs.

Organizations are responsible for their own learning. Arms-length, time-boxed working agreements between clients and coaches are essential.

Coaches must look for every opportunity to increase the learning of the organization as a whole, with strong intent to vacate or otherwise evolve the current coaching role as soon as possible.

Coaching requires the willingness to identify any cultural impediments to continuous improvement, and to communicate these to the people in the organization who have the authority to address them.

The primary task of a coach is to help improve the effective results and working lives of the people employed in the organizations they serve.

The ability of an organization to respond to change is the primary measure of progress.

Leaders in an organization must continuously signal positive encouragement, and create safe space for others to think and learn, if positive culture change is to be lasting and effective.


Embedded/”integrated” coaching

Here is the definition:

Embedded Agile Coaching: Agile coaching that has a “coach” personally present, full-time, at the client site, for 3 business months or more, where the coach is often (but not always) observed taking up the Scrum Master and/or Product Owner role for substantial amounts of time.

Embedded coaching 5 days a week sets up at least the following potential dysfunctions:

  • Excessive projection of authority on the ‘coach’ by the client, leading to the coach inappropriately accepting responsibility for the client org’s learning.
  • A client desire to see the coach ‘doing something’, leading to the misguided idea that having the coach function as Scrum Master for all the teams is a useful and good idea. (It’s not.)
  • Diminished client learning, caused by the ‘coach’ becoming an authoritative fixture in the organization, the one who provides answers.
  • A tendency for the coach to support Mandated Collaboration



Military Intelligence

It may come as no surprise to you that some of the most challenging work available in computer science is to be found in the USA military.

A less obvious fact is that some of the most interesting work in the social sciences is also located inside the military industrial complex. (Whether it is OK to take this work if you are ‘opposed to war’ is something we can debate later.)

The Department of Defense Command and Control research project has something to teach you about societal change.

I wrote about this topic some years ago on INFOQ and how it relates to software agility.

Here is a sample of what the military is actually saying now:

Agile people conceive and approach the world and their assigned tasks differently from those who are less agile. In general, agile people have a propensity to seek improvements, are more willing to consider information that is at odds with preconceived notions, and are more willing to be different and take risks. These basic characteristics can be enhanced or suppressed by education, training, and culture. Unfortunately, many organizations, both large and small, suppress agility-enabling characteristics.


The changes in warfare reflect the new reality of big data, information asymmetry and other important societal trends. You can browse books and publications on the DoD site and obtain them for free. The site is a stimulating source of interesting ideas about collaboration and societal change.


Web Page: About the Dept of Defense Command & Control Research Project

My Article: (circa 2010) on INFOQ: “The Command and Control Military Gets Agile”