Authority vs. Ideas: Which is the best way forward?

Find a new project...

Larry Summers portrayal in The Social Network


For a generation of Americans, Larry Summers is best known for calling twin Harvard undergraduates/Olympic athletes “assholes.”


Summers, the former President of Harvard (and one of its youngest tenured professors ever), was famously portrayed condescendingly brushing off the Winklevii twins in the movie, “The Social Network.”


When asked if the cinematic portrayal was a fair one, Summers admitted it wasn’t far off…. Watch video here.


But a recent quote from Larry Summers has me forgetting all about the Facebook flic.

In the November edition of Fortune Magazine, there was a Q&A with Summers.


Despite his lengthy experience yielding authority (Ivy League Professor, Chief Economist of the World Bank, Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, & President of Harvard, among others), Summers had an interesting take on authority, ideas and leadership.


“It is the authority of ideas, not the idea of authority, that represents the best way forward.”



Write that down and tape it to your monitor.



In 2014, better ideas are needed.


Where are better ideas found?

Closest to the opportunities and problems – where the boots hit the ground.


So get out there.

Walk the jobsite.

(Yes. I know it may be cold outside in some places…)

Talk to the people doing the work.


Ask questions.

Listen to their answers.

Write them down.

Think about them.

Then go back and have another conversation to truly understand.


If the workers speak Spanish, find a translator.

Use Google Translate.

Learn Spanish.

Draw a picture.

Do something.


Don’t solicit ideas exclusively in English.

Let each idea stand on its own merit.


It’s been well documented the U.S. military improved their performance drastically when they quit trying to manage a war in the Middle East from Washington, D.C.


Conditions change too fast.

Trust must be placed with those closest to the action.

That is, the individuals working there day in, day out.



These individuals can do much more than accept authority.

Yet Leadership by Authority is the tool of choice for most managers.


Because I said so,” is much simpler to communicate than a Vision, Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Tactics and Assumptions.


It’s faster to say, “Just do it.


For most, the idea of authority triumphs over the authority of ideas.

When that happens, the idea spigot is turned off.


Turn it back on.

Start by being human – have a conversation about how things can get better.

Then go from there.


Effective communication and relationship-building may take a bit longer in the short run, but you’re not in it for the short run.


Are you?



“It is the authority of ideas, not the idea of authority, that represents the best way forward.”




Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (, a training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry.    

If you enjoyed this post and would be interested in other related content, subscribe to our monthly Newsletter – the Red Angle Revista. Once a month, no fluff, no sales pitches. Just ideas and language skills to help you run a better job.

Categories: Construction Spanish, Jobsite Leadership

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: