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Authority vs Power

2017-01-07         Shukla Bose

Last week I had an interesting discussion with my school leadership team about the difference between authority and power. We call these informal discussions in my office, at the end of the day, our “Chats for Clarity”. There is no agenda, no time hard stops, and lots of coffee, fair amount of giggles and intense discussions on issues that may have cropped up recently and our take on that. These issues could range from school affairs to personal matters but what is most important about these chats is the analysis we do to check if we are all on the same page. I find it useful for bonding, reviewing where we are, and what we have learnt recently. 

So, as we chatted this particular evening, we realized that although power and authority stem from the same concept, they are both very different as they contain deeper meanings.

The main difference between power and authority is the degree of control and influence they have for individuals. While authority is the sanctioned right given to a person to get things done in an official capacity, power is the ownership of authority and control to influence the opinions, movements and behavior of others. Traditionally and technically, authority is the right given to a person to give orders to subordinates; power has a wider scope and enables one to do what they want. Again as per the textbook, authority can be taken away as it is official, whereas power cannot be taken away because it is personal and linked with the individual’s personality, wealth and not designation.

As we continued chatting that evening, we realized that in Parikrma we experience the concepts of power and authority very  differently. We realized that here is another way Parikrma is so different. Right from the day we started our organisation, our education philosophy discouraged any hierarchy and bureaucratic processes. So, while we have some teachers who have more responsibilities and are made more accountable, they are in no way more formidable and definitely never, above questioning. Our open-door policy of dealing with issues leads to transparency in decision-making and greater degree of ownership of the outcomes by everybody. I remember that in the early days of our operation there was a great deal of discomfort amongst the newly hired senior and experienced teachers because they felt that they had no power and authority and would not be taken seriously by their colleagues. It has taken us several years to define the norm that power comes from designation but authority comes from attitude. Our approach to the concepts of “order and discipline” is a total antithesis to the textbook and tradition. We believe that leaders need to author their own style and processes, which gives them the authority, that comes from within and not from any designation or label. In Parikrma we believe that power comes from external factors and is prone to corruption and artificiality. In our schools, we believe that each one of us needs to author our vision for the organization and that is what gives us the authority that has little power but high degree of will.


It is with these beliefs that we have survived the last fourteen years and shown impact that has been unprecedented. We are now poised to take these beliefs to a larger number of state-run schools and see how we can influence change in a greater scale.


Each one of us in Parikrma has immense authority but very little power. And, with this we are empowering our students, our agents of change to bring a difference in the quality of life of their family and community. And that change is on….

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