The idea of connecting initiative to authority starts with this post by Dan Rockwell,
Ineffective leaders seize and hoard authority; successful leaders give it. Those who cling to authority lose it. Those who give authority gain authority.
Authority is permission to act without permission.
Control freaks never inspire initiative. The more they control the less initiative – acting without permission – others take. Inspire initiative by giving authority.
Frank Maynard at Bobwhite Blather shows us how this works in Scouting
As leaders in the Scouting program, we sometimes think that we have the ultimate authority in how our troop runs. But do we?
Yes, we are responsible for ensuring that things are done safely, and that the Scouting program is followed. The committee provides essential support in the form of equipment, finance, and administration. A Scout troop, however, is meant to be led by the boys, not by the adults, and this means not taking the authority away from the boys when it comes to running their troop.
… if adults feel they must control the process and outcome, the boys will never take the initiative. Having this essential element removed negates everything that we are here for.
Scouting places overall authoritative oversight with the adult volunteers in charge of the unit, but this authority is not meant to be absolute and exclusive.
Scouting also places progressive levels of authority in the Scouts. In the youngest age divisions of the program Cubs have little authority of their own, they follow and help adult volunteers. As they grow Scouts the program adjusts the level of adult involvement as it invests Scouts with growing levels of authority.
When adults respect the level of authority invested in Scouts they inspire initiative in their Scouts.
A common complaint with adult leaders is that ‘our Scout youth leaders just don’t do what they are supposed to, they have no initiative’. This complaint usually indicates that the Scouts have little or no authority for themselves. When they have no authority they have no initiative, when they have no initiative they don’t do things – they wait for things to be done for them. Why would they do otherwise?
If I can convince an adult volunteer to recognize the authority of their Scouts to act they may try for a while, but they don’t like the way their Scouts respond – so they take the authority back from the Scouts. One or two tries, the Scouts don’t respond and an adult volunteer never tries that idea again; ‘we tried that but it didn’t work’.
I want to encourage you to try again.
The relationship between initiative and authority is clear, but it’s not usually instantaneous, like throwing a switch; think of it as planting a seed. If we throw a light switch and the light doesn’t come on we grow impatient. If we plant a seed and it doesn’t sprout instantly we aren’t surprised – we know that this sort of thing takes time.
After we plant seeds we keep an eye on the garden, looking for the sprout, we water the garden, pull the weeds and nurture the new plants. When a newly-minted youth leader steps into their role we need to nurture any indication of initiative, keep it free from interference and watch it grow.
New Scout youth leaders are vulnerable, they need to get past the first problems, they need encouragement. Just like the newly sprouted seed we can’t grow for them, we can only maintain an environment that helps them grow.
Scout youth leaders must have authority before they will show initiative, their first steps are vulnerable to many disappointments and setbacks. As they grow we’ll see the strength of Scout youth leaders initiative increase.