The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is 'Authority'?

People tend to comply with Authority figures. This occurs even if they wouldn't take the same action under different circumstances. Once a figure is perceived as an Authority, they become more persuasive.

If you're in a position with Authority, people will interact with you differently. People may filter what they tell you in order to tell you what you want to hear, which may not be what you need to hear.

Developing a strong Reputation will give you the benefits of Authority. Establish yourself as an Authority and you are more likely to increase your sales.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Authority'

In the 1970s, Sanka (a popular mass-market coffee brand) hired Robert Young, an actor, to promote the health benefits of decaffeinated coffee.

Young was better known to the public as Dr. Marcus Welby, the lead character of the popular television show Marcus Welby, MD. Even though Young wasn't an expert on the medical effects of caffeine, people still perceived him as an authority-and bought Sanka.

The approach worked so well that Sanka used "Dr. Welby" to promote their product for decades.

People have an inherent tendency to comply with Authority figures. This tendency begins in childhood-we wouldn't survive very long if we didn't obey our parents.

As we grow up, we're socialized to respect and obey other authority figures: teachers, police officers, government officials, and clergy. As a result, when an authority figure asks us to do something, we're very likely to comply-even if the request isn't appropriate or doesn't make sense. People tend to comply with authority figures even if they'd refuse to take the same action under normal circumstances.

In a famously disturbing social psychology experiment, Stanley Milgram proved that most individuals would comply with authority figures to a surprising degree-even if the request appeared morally wrong.

In a series of experiments that began in 1961, Milgram placed test subjects in a room with a "scientist" in a white lab coat and another individual, both of whom were actors. The subject was told the purpose of the study was about the effect of punishment on learning, and one of the participants was "randomly" selected to be the "learner" - the actor.

The "learner" was taken to an adjacent room, strapped into a chair, and attached to electrodes. The test subject's job as the "teacher" was to read the learner questions, then "shock" the learner if they responded incorrectly.

The shocks weren't real, but the actor would scream, cry, and beg to be released from the study. Every few minutes, the "scientist" would instruct the teacher to raise the voltage of the shocks. The intent of the study was to see how long the test subject would obey the scientist before quitting.

The results were disturbing: 80% of participants continued past the point were the learner begged to stop, and 65% continued all the way to the maximum level of 450 volts, which was clearly marked as deadly.

Throughout the study, the subjects were clearly uncomfortable and uncertain, but the scientist told them to continue, so they did.

Authority figures are automatically and strongly persuasive.

In the presence of an authority figure, people will do things they'd otherwise view as reprehensible, or wouldn't consider in the first place-the source of many a scandal involving famous and powerful people.

If you're in a position of authority, your authority will change the way others interact with you. Simply by expressing an opinion, your subordinates will be far more likely to interpret your position as a truth or as a command. As a result, people will begin to filter the information they give you based on what they think you want to hear-which may not be what you need to hear.

This filtering behavior is how authority figures often end up "living in a bubble"-the combination of Authority and Confirmation Bias shelters them from information that contradicts their opinions. As a result, it's difficult for authority figures to compensate for Excessive Self-Regard Tendency.

Developing a strong Reputation in a certain area confers the benefits of Authority. Not all parts of authority are insidious-if people respect your knowledge and experience, they're more likely to do what you suggest. As a result, developing clear expertise and a strong Reputation can be beneficial-it increases your own influence.

Work to establish yourself as an authority on what you're offering, and people will be more likely to accept your offer.

Questions About 'Authority'


"Show respect to all men, but grovel to none."

Tecumseh, eighteenth-century leader of the Shawnee tribe


From Chapter 8:

Working With Others


https://personalmba.com/authority/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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