Fame, moral authority, and leadership

Pierre and Marie Curie Diploma for Nobel Prize in Physics
Pierre and Marie Curie Diploma for Nobel Prize in Physics

I remember a day when I was younger and a work done with some good scientists was published at the local and national press. I was living in a little city and I went to meet people to a local bar and I met two girls, friends of mine that I had met previously. One of them told me the bartender wanted to ask something to me. He asked me if I was one of the guys at the press. I was surprised because the piece of news was spread so fast. I answered affirmatively and I told him that it was not important because nobody had invited me to have a drink due to it. He served me a drink for free. Really, I do not know why he did it. Probably, he did it only in order to be kind with the girls.

When I went back to Madrid, talking to another girl, a colleague of mine in my new job as innovation manager, I said her once that I was famous in my previous work and girls recognized me walking by the street. The surprising thing of this other anecdote is that she believed it quickly although we was in a large city as Madrid, and she looked at me as if I was thinking I was a very important man much better than she was. I calmed her saying that it was not a gift, it was a disgrace, and you finally understand that everybody knows who are you, and where you are working while you know nothing about other people, and you cannot know sometimes why people come near to you. It is better to be unnoticed many times.

These two stories can be useful to analyze the differences between fame and leadership. In the former case, I had a position of a technician; however, I could become noticeable due to my work that had social interest. In the latter case, I was known by many people at the organization due to I had a high visibility position working with the corporate managing staff although people did not know much about the real value of my work. I became known by many people in both cases but through very different ways.

Noticeable facts are related to leadership. Leaders are remarkable at the organization; however, leadership cannot be supported only on fame, in the same way as it cannot be supported only on formal authority.

In the field of innovation, a remarkable scientist has not got formal authority but he has got moral authority, while a manager has not got moral authority but he has got formal authority. Leadership can be more based on the moral authority than in the formal one; however management requires both aspects to be effective, because moral authority let to have the support of people, and formal authority let to use financial resources and other assets of the organization.

Back to the initial story, what is moral authority for if you cannot get resources with it? I am beginning to notice now that I was a very wise man when I was younger, because the value of moral authority in an organization can be nothing without formal authority.

Formal authority provides the capability to get financial resources to make any management action, however, in the innovation field the support of the people is very important because you cannot order that people give their ideas. People are contracted to make a certain work, but creativity and sharing ideas is not usually written in a labor contract. Here is where moral authority can help the leader to get the required support from the staff, and fame, if it is linked to the working activity is good basement of the moral authority.

Unlike formal authority, moral authority is subjective a lot of times. Some people will accept it easily and other people will not. Fame is a good support for moral authority because it makes it less subjective. Fame implies that the success of the innovators is known by many people and this cannot be easily hidden by a competitor.

However, as I shown at the second story, fame is not totally positive. Fame turns you into the target of every competitor. You will find immediately a lot of people comparing themselves with you, and you will find a lot people criticizing your work and even your person behind your back. A real leader never criticizes the opposition because he usually is the target of the critiques. He is the man to be defeated.

Fame can give you power inside the organization but a great power is always linked to both a great responsibility and a great opposition. The difference between the famous with moral authority and a leader is related to this fact. The famous man tries to get little personal advantages of this power avoiding a direct confrontation with any opposition. He tries to preserve the fame as an important asset. The leader tries to use the power to improve the organization assuming the risk of a personal loss due to the competition, because there are not great benefits without taking higher risks in most business activities.

In order to finish this discussion I want to point out that in the field of innovation what is important is the work behind the fame. Fame can be destroyed by the opposition through personal attacks, for instance. However, the work that provided the fame always is preserved.

A great leader never must mistake fame with the source of fame. The support of the moral authority is the source of fame instead of the fame itself. And moral authority is related to the capability to get successes instead of the capability to criticize other people. Famous people who use their fame to attack other people usually have a lack of real moral authority.


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