Back in the good old days, if you were in a position of authority, you could just announce what needed to be done and assume it would be carried out. But times have changed.
As companies expand and become more complex, no matter what organizational structure is in place, people must work with each other across reporting lines. It doesn’t work to say, “Do it because I told you so.”
But were the good old days really so good? Hierarchical systems replicate parent–child relationships and create dependency. Worse yet, authority-based systems are a breeding ground for abuse of power and are prone to creating oppressive work environments.
Leading without relying on authority is a higher evolutionary skill. It supports the development of adult-adult relationships based on mutual objectives. And it helps create work environments grounded in respect for human dignity.
8 Ways to Influence Without Relying on Authority
- Character – Your own character is your greatest source of influence. Do you lead by example and follow through on your commitments? Are you respectful, authentic and trustworthy? People will believe you are motivated by the common good and not personal gain.
- Expertise – Do you have content knowledge and experience? Are you a thought leader? Do you understand the process needed to accomplish the objective? You can influence by providing a clear logic, an explanation of the benefit, and reassurance that it is the right course of action.
- Information – Do you have access to valuable information? You can influence by providing data and proof.
- Connectedness – Do you form close relationships with people? Do they enjoy working with you? Do you engender loyalty? You can influence by appealing to shared values and your emotional connection.
- Social intelligence – Do you offer insight into interpersonal issues that interfere with work and help facilitate resolution of issues? People trust that you’ll be able to help them work together effectively.
- Network – Do you put the right people in touch with each other? Can you garner the endorsements of credible people? People will trust that you will get the support needed.
- Collaboration – Do you seek win-win solutions, unify coalitions and build community? People will trust that you can help them become a high performing team that accomplishes its objectives.
- Funding – Do you have access to financial support? If financial resources are required, it’s easier to influence when you can ensure adequate funding is available.
Build your muscles before you need them.
Too often we rely on one source of influence, and when it doesn’t work, there is no fall-back. If you always influence through the logic of expertise, you will have little impact on those who are more open to an appeal from someone they have a personal connection with.
When you develop more sources of influence, you have more options; and you have the opportunity to step back and consider which is the best source of influence for a particular situation.
3 Guidelines for Influencing Without Authority
- Put it out there. Communicate clearly what you want. First be clear with yourself because if you’re not, it will be difficult to be clear with others. Then make sure you’ve been understood correctly.
- Be transparent. No hidden agendas. Don’t withhold information. Or if you do need to withhold information, provide an explanation of why. People respect a sincere attempt at influence and resent being manipulated.
- Do your best AND be willing to let go. If an appeal to logic doesn’t work, try a different source of influence such as an appeal to values, building a credible network of support, or obtaining financial resources. However, there’s a difference between influencing and driving an agenda. If you are too attached, you are less likely to be heard. At some point, if you have done your best and have not been successful, you need to let it go.
There are no guarantees.
When we move away from a control-base approach to leadership, not all efforts to influence will be successful. Failing to influence does not mean you made a mistake. It might have been a good idea but the wrong time. Or it might have been the wrong idea – maybe you had a blind spot or didn’t see a bigger picture.
When we shift from authority-based to influence-based leadership, we have to accept that we are not always in control. However, the reality is that we actually never were.