How to Influence Without Authority

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.


5 Leadership Struggles Leaders Face

#1 Confidence – Are you confident or arrogant?  The difference is “I am the reason we succeed,” vs. “You all are the reason we succeed.”  What’s the source of your confidence?  You or the vision and plan? You or the people you lead? Arrogance shouts “I and me.” Confidence shouts “you and us.”  Carry yourself with confidence and you can influence people.  Lead with arrogance and you turn people off.

#2 Confrontation – Do you struggle confronting the people you lead with the brutal truth.  The truth is, every leader has struggled with “we need to have a tough conversation.” Why?  Because it gets personal.  Keep the conversation about the vision, the plan and making the team better.  Caring leaders confront.  Pleasing people won’t get results.  All it does is make the conversation easier.  Coach, guide and direct.  Learn to have the crucial conversations.  Don’t avoid the confrontations.  Embrace them and lead.

#3 Jealousy – Are you jealous of other leaders?  Do you envy their success?  Why not celebrate it? Don’t worry about who gets credit.   Be thankful there is credit to get.  Be thankful other leaders are leading.  Jealousy leads to pride.  Pride sneaks up on you.  You validate yourself with pride.  Jealousy feeds your pride.  You are better.  Just as good.  Smarter.  Does any of that matter?  Does jealousy help you influence?

#4 Failure – Face it, you will fail if you are leading.  It’s not if but when and how many times.  Are you afraid to move forward because you fear failure?  Does it hold you back?  Why?  Your risk is not growing or learning.  You will make bad decisions.  Admit them and move on.  If you are not failing, you are not leading.  Everything doesn’t always work out like you planned.  The answer isn’t always in your favor.  The project doesn’t always succeed.  The idea doesn’t always work.  Customers don’t always agree with your value proposition.  Get back up.  Dust yourself off.  Try something else.  Fail again.

#5 Insecurity – Do you think everyone is smarter?  Do you feel inadequate and incompetent?  Don’t.  You’re not alone.  Everyone has bitten off more than they can chew at various times.   You don’t need to be insecure.  Don’t worry about what others are saying.  They are the few.  Focus on the many.  The people you lead.  The few don’t represent everyone.  They represent very few.  Your identity is not in the few.  It’s in your character, values and principles.  It doesn’t matter if you lead 1 or a 100.  You are smart enough.  You are adequate because you choose to lead and make a difference.  Don’t worry about the few.

You are not alone in these struggles.  All leaders deal with one or all of them at different times.  Embrace them.  Be aware of them.  Recognize when they show up.

They are opportunities.

Struggle a little every day.  Get better.  You are not alone.  Ignore the few.


What other leadership struggles would you add to the list?

10 Principles of 21st Century Leadership

Serve to Lead is built upon the following principles of 21st century leadership:

1. Everyone Can Lead, Because Everyone Can Serve.

2. The Most Valuable Resource of Any Enterprise is its People.

3. We Are in Transition from a Transaction-Based World to a Relationship-Based World.

4. Leadership is a Relationship Between Empowered, Consenting Adults.

5. Leadership is a Dynamic Relationship.

6. There is No Universal Leadership Style.

7. Leadership Roles Are Converging.

8. A Leader’s Unique Task is to Imagine and Advance a Vision.

9. Love is the Highest Level of Leadership Relationship.

10. Character is a Competitive Advantage.

What do you think? In the coming weeks and months this blog will examine these principles and their implications for how we all live and work today.

Are You An Absent Leader?

In your heart, you’re a good leader – you care for your people, you help them grow.

© iStock Photo
But you’re rarely there.

You’re just so darn busy with everything you have to do. So many fires to put out, so many urgent To-Do’s. So you cancel your bi-weekly meeting with your employee and you rarely have time to listen to them.

You’re an Absent Leader! And there’s a high cost.

In our work with our clients we see lots of Absent Leaders. The interesting thing is how their employees cope.

Employees of Absent Leaders:

Don’t ask questions. They know their Boss is super-busy and they don’t want to make it worse by asking for help.
Solve problems alone. They decide on their priorities and resolve issues with no input from their manager.
Stress a lot. They wonder if they are doing the right thing, they doubt themselves frequently.
And the funny thing is – employees defend their Absent Boss. They tell us that they feel sorry for their Boss. They never complain. Most companies don’t even know they have a problem with absenteeism!

While you’ve got to commend your employees for their resourcefulness, this is very dangerous for an organization. Here are the risks:

Your employees don’t have the “big picture” to make the right call. They make mistakes, they focus on the wrong priorities. And you won’t know.
They play it safe. They don’t take on critical but risky tasks, they don’t perform as well as they could.
They miss out on coaching. They don’t grow as quickly as they could with your help.
And the crazy thing is – this makes you even more busy. Fewer things happen, your people don’t take things off your plate – no, they end up on your plate!

How do you stop being an Absent Leader?

You’ve got to make three shifts in the way you think and work:

Your job is to grow them. 80% of your paycheck compensates you for growing your people. Do you earn it?
You have to invest time to save time. A great team takes work off your plate. Investing time now will allow you to give them more freedom to work alone later. But you’ve got to get them there first.
Do less, delegate more. Spend less time doing things yourself. Give them more of your critical tasks but check-in and work together on the problems. Let them make some mistakes but be there to coach them.
Are you an Absent Leader? If so you are limiting your team, and making your life insane. Invest time in your team to save time for yourself.

Do you work for an Absent Leader? Are you one yourself? What’s the cost? Please share your story in the comments below.

Molding Future Leaders: 4 Tips for Mentoring Young Professionals — Todd Nielsen

Here on, we often discuss how we can develop leadership qualities within ourselves and within organizations. Established leaders, also have an obligation to pass the baton and help develop leadership in others. This, more than anything, is the hallmark of good leadership. Just as John Quincy Adams once noted, “If your actions inspire others to learn more, dream more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” If you have young people in either your professional or personal life, lift them up and in so doing, inspire an entire generation of future leaders. Here’s how:

1. Impress upon your young charges the importance of constantly learning.
Perhaps the most important key to future success and personal fulfillment is developing a desire to constantly learn new things. If you are an employer and you supervise young people, give them tasks that require learning and applying new skills. Encourage them to learn outside of work, to learn for its own sake and enjoyment.

2. Put them in situations in which they have to make serious decisions.
Good decision-making skills are another important element in leadership. Of course, you can talk all day about the qualities inherent in strong leaders, but it’s important to put young people to the test so they can actually begin practicing leadership skills. If the young people in question are your employees, put them in a situation in which they make serious business decisions. Guide them through the process of decision-making, and show them how each decision requires compromise and give-and-take.

3. Emphasize loyalty and humility over personal gain.
If there’s one thing that many leaders in the financial industry learned, it’s that greed trumps responsibility to your clients and the common good. We often talk about ethics in leadership, but we all too often only pay it lip service. Talk to your young future leaders about the importance of loyalty and service. Financial greed never pays off, doing the right thing does.

4. Be the best example you can be. Actions speak louder than words.
Being a good example is the most effective way to mentor young professionals. That means always being aware that you are being watched by young people who look up to you. Never take shortcuts, own up to your mistakes and otherwise be the person you want others to see you as.

Inspiring leadership in younger people is by no means easy. But as a current leader, you must develop a vision for long-haul sustainability for your current enterprise and society as a whole. This can only be done by investing in young people. Soon enough, they’ll be running the world.

Finding Real Leadership Power

Humility is real power, arrogance façade.

15 Ways to be an arrogant leader:

Rush. “Important” people don’t have enough time.
Look serious. The more important you are the more serious you look.
Detach. “Arrogance comes from detachment.” Henry Mintzberg.
Take calls or text during meetings. Now we know you’re important. Ooooo!
Know. Act like you know when you don’t. Arrogance makes learning difficult.
Delegate dirty work.
Isolate. Be too good for the “little” people.
Insulate. Create protective environments.
Blow up. Anger and arrogance are relatives.
Tell don’t ask.
Speak don’t listen.
Complain and blame rather than solve and support.
Surround yourself with groveling yes-men.


Humility requires more confidence than arrogance. Fear makes us pretend we know, when we don’t, for example.

Humility is found, expressed, and nurtured in connecting. Arrogance pushes off; humility invites in. Withdrawal suggests independence; connecting expresses interdependence.

Humility builds trust. Trust fuels leadership. But you can’t trust arrogant people. They reject what’s right for what makes them look good, when necessary.

How to be a powerful humble leader:

Stand your ground where values are concerned. Humble leaders submit to noble values.
Realize you aren’t your title.
Demand excellence from yourself, first.
Call for, and enable excellence. (Emphasis on enable.)
Don’t believe your own press. People aren’t telling you the full truth.
Sit at the side not the head.
Brag about others. Fools make others feel they don’t matter.
Say thanks. Gratitude softens arrogance.
Invite feedback.
Ask as well as tell. Curiosity reflects humility. Warning: questions may be control-tools. I confess that I use questions to control conversations and divert attention from myself.
Do the opposite of the arrogant leader list.

Management Is (Still) Not Leadership

A few weeks ago, the BBC asked me to come in for a radio interview. They told me they wanted to talk about effective leadership — China had just elevated Xi Jinping to the role of Communist Party leader; General David Petraeus had stepped down from his post at the CIA a few days earlier; the BBC itself was wading through a leadership scandal of its own — but the conversation quickly veered, as these things often do, into a discussion about how individuals can keep large, complex, unwieldy organizations operating reliably and efficiently.

That’s not leadership, I explained. That’s management — and the two are radically different.

In more than four decades of studying businesses and consulting to organizations on how to implement new strategies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use the words “leadership” and “management” synonymously, and it drives me crazy every time.

The interview reminded me once again that the confusion around these two terms is massive, and that misunderstanding gets in the way of any reasonable discussion about how to build a company, position it for success and win in the twenty-first century. The mistakes people make on the issue are threefold:

Mistake #1: People use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This shows that they don’t see the crucial difference between the two and the vital functions that each role plays.

Mistake #2: People use the term “leadership” to refer to the people at the very top of hierarchies. They then call the people in the layers below them in the organization “management.” And then all the rest are workers, specialists, and individual contributors. This is also a mistake and very misleading.

Mistake #3: People often think of “leadership” in terms of personality characteristics, usually as something they call charisma. Since few people have great charisma, this leads logically to the conclusion that few people can provide leadership, which gets us into increasing trouble.

In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.

Some people still argue that we must replace management with leadership. This is obviously not so: they serve different, yet essential, functions. We need superb management. And we need more superb leadership. We need to be able to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient. We need them to jump into the future — the right future — at an accelerated pace, no matter the size of the changes required to make that happen.

There are very, very few organizations today that have sufficient leadership. Until we face this issue, understanding exactly what the problem is, we’re never going to solve it. Unless we recognize that we’re not talking about management when we speak of leadership, all we will try to do when we do need more leadership is work harder to manage. At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.

The Most Powerful Question a Leader Can Ask

I’ve worked for a lot of managers – good, great, average and awful.  In consulting, I would switch projects every few months.  More often than not, I’d have a new manager I was reporting to and just as often I would be assigned a new internal career counselor.

Have you worked with any of these managers?  You may even see yourself in some of the descriptions…

The Hoverer

I’ve worked for managers that were at my desk every hour asking me “How’s it going?”  What they really wanted was a status report.

The I Can’t Be Bothered

I’ve worked for managers that were harder to find than a needle in a haystack.   They told me, “I trust you, I’ll check in with you in a few days.  OK?” What they really wanted was for me to just get the work done so they didn’t need to worry about it.

The Just Like This

I’ve worked for managers that drew out all the details for the deck that they wanted me to develop.  They asked, “Do you get it?  Am I clear with what I’m looking for?”  What they really wanted was an extra pair of hands, not another thinker in the equation.

The Tell Me I’m Brilliant

I’ve worked for managers that would give me their high level vision and then ask, “What do you think?”  (But then work hard to discredit my ideas and suggestions.)  What they really wanted was for me to nod and clap and say how brilliant they are and how lucky I am to bring their vision to life.

The Smartest One

I’ve worked for managers (even when I was a VP) that told me that they’d do the talking in the meeting.  They asked, “If I missed something, can you shoot me an IM so I’ll be sure to say it?” What they really wanted was to be viewed as the smartest person in the room.  To be the leader.

While I have worked for a lot of managers, I’ve worked for far less leaders.  The leaders were as invested in my success, the team’s success, and the organization’s success as their own.  They weren’t concerned about credit or looking smart, they wanted to do great work and create a great place to work.

The Leader

The leaders I’ve had the privilege to work for delivered exceptional levels of support and service not only to the customer, but also to employees.  It was a few of these leaders that taught me the power of one very simple question; the most powerful question a leader can ask.

Four Words:

How can I help?

The leaders that asked me this question?  What they really wanted was for me to succeed.  For us to create something exceptional together.  To deliver the unexpected.  To empower the next generation of leaders.

How can I help you remove roadblocks?
How can I help you to brainstorm?
How can I help to connect you with others?
How can I help build on your work?
How can I help you to achieve your goals?
How can I help you realize your career ambitions?
How can I help to solve your problem?
How can I help shine the light on your effort?
How can I help to spread the word?
How can I help you be successful?
How can I get out of your way so you can do great work?  I’m here if you need me.
Try it for the next few days and see how it changes the conversation at home, in the office, with customers, colleagues, friends and family.  Ask how you can help.

Drive Accountability

People that waited to be told what to do will discover that they own their work, not you.  They will think about what they need and learn that you genuinely want them to speak up for themselves.  They own the work as much as you do.

Empower Others

Instead of shining a mysterious green light in the sky to let people to let people know that they can run with the work, this is it.  Let them walk, run, skip and jump with their own panache knowing tha
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