The Right Way To Gain Authority Over Your People

Two of your Administrative Assistants habitually log in late on Mondays.

Your junior partner is not aboard when it comes to holding a weekly check in on open issues.

You are working harder than anyone on your team, and they don’t care.

Until these people grant you the moral authority to lead, good luck solving these problems.

Successful advisors know how to help their clients, but running a team of advisors and support staff requires a different set of skills.  Even though teaming is continuing to grow in popularity, there is not much instruction available on leadership for the senior members.  Over 25 years I worked with teams as large as 12 individuals and the more common 2-4 person groups.  This is the first in a short series of articles addressing leadership for those who have formed such teams.  The principles we explore here will work for both independent groups and those that operate within a traditional brokerage firm’s structure.

This first article will look at moral authority and how you can gain and maintain it.  Later articles will look at how to conduct team meetings and how to use counseling and feedback to strengthen your team.  If that sounds fair to you, read on!

Moral Authority

‘Moral authority’ has to be voluntarily granted to a leader by the group. It is based on trust.  Your people will grant you moral authority when you have proven your commitment to the cause (great financial advice) and the team (them).   They will continue to grant you moral authority if you are able to give them energy and inspiration over time.  As you gain moral authority, your team will be much more receptive to your leadership. 

Contrast that definition of moral authority with ‘institutional authority,’ the kind that comes when somebody gets a title.  I was a branch and market manager with titles like First Vice President and Managing Director.  Any authority that came with those titles was imposed by my institution.  The same holds true for you as the nominal leader of the team you have built.  Institutional authority, also called formal power, is imposed upon the followers and is of limited value.  A study by Dov Seidman published by the World Economic Forum last year reported that 74% of respondents believe that their colleagues would do a better job if leaders relied more on moral authority than on formal power.*

First Pillar of Moral Authority – Humility

This is all about putting others first, and it is exactly what you need to do as the leader.  When you built your book, you learned all about putting clients first.  As the leader of your team, you will put the people on your team first also. 

The first thing you need to do is understand your team.  Get a full understanding of why each person works with you.  Be patient with them, and don’t judge their motivations.  As a manager I once worked for a great FA who made a habit of asking her people why they liked working on her team, and what would make them like it even more.  She never held their answers against them, or allowed herself to pigeonhole them as though she always knew exactly what motivated them.  When she eventually moved firms, her whole team went with her.

The second thing you need to do in terms of humility is sacrifice for your team.  That doesn’t mean martyring yourself, but it means making substantial sacrifices for the good of the cause so that your people can say to each other, “she pays her dues, and I respect that.”  More than anything that means sacrificing time by listening and supporting others when you would rather go home or focus on yourself.  It also means sacrificing money in the form of generous compensation (both salary and bonus).  Finally, it means sacrificing your comfort.  If there is blame to take, take it. If there is an angry client or internal partner to face, face him.  Do it yourself.  Don’t ever make one of your team members take a fall for you.  Such humble sacrifices will make your people think to themselves “I follow this guy because he is not afraid of taking the heat…once I saw him (insert great story here!)…” 

Second Pillar of Moral Authority – Your Values and What You Do with Them

A moral value is an idea or truth that guides you when you seek direction.  If you have never thought about what you value in business, you can start to get an idea by listing out the 3, 4, or 5 things in your life that you would fight the hardest to get or preserve?  What would you be willing to pay the most for, or sacrifice the most to protect?  That list is a good representation of what you value.

You must know what you value if you want to have any moral authority.  Different leaders value different things, which is what sets any one team apart from its competitors.  For instance, once in a New Jersey office I was lucky enough to work with a team whose leader valued punctuality, predictability, and completeness.  Whenever a crisis or decision arose, the leader developed a solution by asking which available alternative best supported those three values.  Another team that I worked with, this time in the Midwest, valued imagination, flexibility and what the leader called “creative disruption.” Different leaders can value very different things, but a leader who has no defined values will never be granted moral authority.

It is not enough to have values; you also need to express them.  That means sharing them with your team.  It means putting them, either figuratively or literally, on the wall for all to see.  Make that list of 3 to 5 words part of your story and tell it every day to your team as well as your clients.  Does that set a high standard for yourself?  Does it make you vulnerable to criticism if you fall short?  You bet it does!  That brings us to our final pillar.

Third Pillar of Moral Authority – Credibility and Consistency

I said upfront that moral authority is based on trust.  Trust is built when people see you doing what you say you are going to do and living by the values that you say that you hold.  Do not make up values on the fly, to meet the immediate needs of a situation.  If one day you value predictability, and the next day you value flexibility, then you had better be careful.  That doesn’t mean to ignore common sense but it does mean to pay attention to consistency.  That kind of inconsistency will exhaust your people and can make them take back any moral authority they have granted to you.

Leadership is example, and your example is leadership.  Make sure that there is one set of rules for your team and that you follow them.  One successful FA that I worked with in a suburban branch valued, among other things, old fashioned hard work.  To him that meant that his team should be in by 7:30 every morning and be willing to put in long hours at times.  Once he tried to explain to me why he thought it was okay that he came in at 9:15 and often left right after the close every day.  “I have earned this,” he said, “They will have to earn it for themselves if they want that kind of lifestyle.”  His team worked hard, but they couldn’t stand him.  He had a fair amount of institutional authority because of his success and longevity, but he had no moral authority.  He never kept anyone on his staff for more than a year or two at a time and he never developed a junior partner who could take over the book.  In reality, his team would have forgiven him for working less hours; in fact they liked that he was rarely around early in the morning, but they hated being told that he had “earned it” and that they hadn’t.

Finally, be consistent if you want moral authority.  Be fair and predictable yourself.  Your team needs it.  The worst thing a leader can do is inject drama or hardship into the workplace with the idea that it “keeps my people on their toes.” Let your clients and the markets keep your people on their toes.  Your task, as the leader seeking moral authority, is to do everything you can to keep your team’s feet planted squarely on the ground.  You do that by not surprising them.  You do it by not disappointing them.  You do it by making it so that they take your excellence for granted.  That is the price of leadership. 


You want your team to grant you moral authority, and you want them to keep granting it year after year.  We just discussed the three big “Dos”: be humble, share your values, and be consistent.  There are also some (hopefully) obvious “Don’ts”: don’t flirt with anyone on your team, don’t gossip within your team, and don’t ever ask them to lie or compromise their own morals for you.

Being a boss is hard but the rewards are worth it.  In the next article we will look at some practical methods for holding team meetings. 

Yes, you do need to hold some kind of regular team meetings!

Related: Five Things To Do In The Next 24 Hours to Improve Your Practice

*Source: Dov Seidman, Why Moral Leadership Matters Now More Than Ever (World Economic Forum:,  February 2021)  Moral leadership matters now more than ever: New Study | World Economic Forum (