Leadership and management theory can be narrowed down to three interrelated concepts; Authority, Responsibility, and Accountability.
Yes, there are dozens of books on the market about various approaches to leadership and management. Some folks have made a very good living theorizing how to be a better leader, or, a better manager, or being a superb both. No criticism here about those principles and ideas. To some extent they all work in some scenarios. But this article is about Authority, Responsibility, and Accountability mentioned above.
Not only is it about authority, responsibility and accountability but it is also about how they interact in the political realm. Let’s take them briefly one at a time.
Authority is the right to act within one’s own judgment. In most cases authority is delegated from someone with superior authority. Delegation simply stated means that an individual is given the freedom to act by their own volition on behalf of that superior authority.
Responsibility is the act of accepting authority to perform an assignment given. A substantive difference between authority and responsibility is in the ownership. Authority is solely own by an individual. Responsibility is co-owned between one delegating authority and the one to whom authority is being delegated.
Accountability is the act of exacting an explanation of how one has used their authority and fulfilled their responsibility. Again accountability is a joint duty of both parties.
Delegation, assignment, exaction. Authority is delegated. Responsibility is assigned. Accountability is exacted.
In America authority was delegated to the federal government by the superior authority, the people.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…, secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The people then defined within that Constitution the various roles (authority) of the articulated branches of the federal government. Neither the federal, state, nor local government may rightfully take upon themselves authority which was not delegated to them by the people. The government did not establish the US Constitution. Was it written by men of sound and prudent minds? Of course it was. Was it approved by various legislatures? Again, of course it was. Yet, it was the people’s delegation of authority, not government’s assertion thereof.
Neither the federal, state, nor local government have the authority beyond that which was delegated to them by the people. Those governments have no additional authority than that which is delegated as documented in the Constitution. Throughout the history of this great nation many holding the authority of the government have attempted, intentionally or otherwise, to exert their personal whims to demand more authority than they rightfully possessed. In the very act of doing so, regardless of their intentions or wisdom, they violated their right of their delegated authority.
Far too frequently those who pretend to adhere to the Constitution appeal to the words of the “founders”. I take nothing from such men of wisdom as John Adams and James Madison. Their words, counsel and genius were in fact inspired. However, the Constitution was not their possession. It belonged to the people. Those men had to engage as diligently in informing the people of the Constitution as did those men who put the words of it to paper.
Ultimately the people delegated certain authority to a government which they intended for those given authority to be forever diligent in maintaining that sacred trust.
The Constitution in its initial framework and the Bill of Rights, which was subsequently added within a few years, conveyed the responsibilities which govern held, under that document. In short the government had summarized responsibilities. First and foremost was that all people and the various states were to be governed by equitable laws. Equitable laws simply mean no person or state is treated preferentially based upon merit of position, but rather on the merit of maintaining equitable treatment under the law.
“A more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”
The responsibility assigned to the federal government, by its superior authority-the people, was articulated in the Bill of Rights in keeping the promise of Constitutional Convention. The government had a responsibility to restrict itself from infringement upon the rights of the people and the states.
When Congress, on March 4, 1789, conveyed the Bill of Rights for consideration by the various states under Article 5 of the Constitution the content of that conveyance, seldom discussed, bears significantly upon the responsibility of the federal government.
“THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”
Note the particularity with which Congress, many members of whom participated in the writing of the adopted Constitution of the people, emphasized the intent of the Bill of Rights, “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers”.
The assignment given to Congress was a responsibility to restrict the invasiveness of the government. In those early days the federal government comprehended that assignment, and acted within their limited authority and breadth of responsibility to comply.
The people, the founders of this nation and its Constitution, were foremost concerned with limiting the degree of liberty they would sacrifice to a government. Said the participants in the Constitutional Convention that prepared and presented the “Conscience of the Country” to the people for ratification, the following:
“that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that Country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish” (emphasis added).
In essence the people said to the federal government, ‘we have delegated to you authority, we have assigned to you a responsibility, now we come to exact an accountability. What have you done with that authority and Responsibility which we have given and shared with you?”
In the beginning Congress saw their duty clearly, and with the leadership of men such as John Adams (whom some contend that he did not fully embrace the Bill of Rights) championed, jointly with the people, the responsibility which they had been assigned.
It comes as no surprise to anyone that this author concludes that the bulk of the men and women of authority in the government today fall far short of leadership and proper management of the government.
It is nearly as though each delegatee in the federal government seeks first to exceed the authority granted by the people. They act as though they are an authority unto themselves, rather than trustees of the superior authority of the people.
The responsibilities of the government are clear. Historically and logically, to a just arbiter of fact, current members of the articulated branches of the federal government routinely exceed their responsibilities. They are failing to provide the equity of law which they were mandated to provide. A preponderance of laws focus upon the nature of redistribution of justice to classes of people rather the application to the whole. They correspondingly excel their clear boundaries with abridgements, infringements, and disregard for the specifics of the Bill of Rights. They are failing to meet their designated responsibilities, while exceeding their authority exponentially.
What is left then, is the accountability.
It may seem like a moment of great despair to those that are conscious of the neglect of duty by federal officials. All too often people cry out in dismay, “I just want to hear SOMETHING good about the government.” Vast arrays of similar insults are hurled toward federal officials. Others like, Mike Vanderboegh, advocate open disobedience to laws that fall outside the authority and responsibility of Constitution.
In Mormon (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) theology they have a scriptural reference which could be applied, in principle, to what we see in government today. (Below is a paraphrase, and in no manner represents the views or position of the LDS Church. It is this author’s interpretation for the sole purpose of conveying a political viewpoint).
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
That the rights of the government are inseparably connected with the powers of people, and that the powers of people cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of delegated authority.
That they may be conferred upon elected and appointed officials, it is true; but when those officials undertake to cover their wrongs and flaws, or to gratify their pride, their vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of men, the strength and support of the people is lost; and when it is lost, the authority of that man is lost as well.
Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the authority over him, to persecute the people, and to fight against them.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unjust dominion.”
There is a great need for two actions to occur. First, public officials must return to the soundness of the Constitution. It is within their authority to propose amendments to the Constitution, if they so desire. They have authority to act for themselves in wisdom and a statesman like manner, within the confines of the Constitution. That authority grants them the full right to propose changes to that Constitution.
However and this is most significant, until the superior authority of the people has delegated additional authority to those officials they do not have such authority. They cannot assume unto themselves authority which they do not rightfully hold, without the consequence of full accountability.
The second great action that needs to occur is recognition among the people that they share responsibility for leadership and management with their elected and appointed officials. The people ought not to be idle in that duty. Their authority is perpetual and superior. However, their responsibility is likewise perpetual. It does not end in the voting booth. It is not suspended during each intervening two, four, or six years.
If we go back before the Constitution to July 4th, 1776 the people of this nation operated under the premise that
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are perpetual rights. They cannot be denied. Yet, they can be neglected by a people unwilling to express their consent. Ignorance of infringement upon those rights is not consent to infringement; it is ignorance of duty by the superior authority of the people. It is often said that silence is consent. That is a fallacy! Silence is ignorance.
When a government becomes egregious to the authority, rights, and equity under law to the people from whom they have derived their powers than the people MUST (not “may”, not “should”, not “if convenient”, not “if desirable”, etc.) assert their proper role as superior authority to the government.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to demand accountability from their government they must lay their lives, their liberties, and their pursuit of happiness upon the line that shall not be crossed…or surely the day shall come when all three are lost, not by will but by dominion.
“With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” the time has come for that “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” to restore a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.