A common leadership challenge I hear in our workshops is: “How do I lead when I don’t have authority?”
Even when we do have formal authority, we often need to influence up and across the organization. But should we use our authority to coerce others to do what we want or need them to do? I believe the answer is a resounding no, except in two situations:
- In a crisis or emergency—there is no time to influence right now.
- As a last resort—when you have tried everything to influence, it isn’t working, and “no” is not an option.
Think about those times when your boss used position power to get you to do something. How did you respond? How did it make you feel?
Having autonomy—a feeling of choice—is critical to motivation. When we use position power to get something done, we remove the other person’s sense of autonomy. We may or may not get compliance, but we rarely get commitment.
One key way to influence, whether or not you have authority, is to develop personal power with those you need to influence. Personal power is a product of the trust and respect others have for you based on your actions toward them. The more personal power you have in a relationship, the easier it is to influence. Think of people you truly trust and respect. When they ask you to do something for them, you rarely think twice about it—you just do it.
Four key behaviors can help build your personal power with others:
- Take the time to truly listen—and listen to understand (see my prior post on What Does It Mean to Truly Listen?).
- Be authentic—make sure your actions align with your stated values.
- Treat everyone with respect—not just those you want to influence, but everyone you interact with.
- Keep commitments—develop a reputation for follow-through.
When you need to influence without authority—or even with it—remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“What you are shouts so loud in my ears I cannot hear what you say.”
What other thoughts do you have about influencing without authority?
About the author
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership.