Leader without Authority: The Power of Leading through Influence

As a leader, it’s natural to rely on authority. After all, it’s often easier to make decisions when you ultimately have the final say. Yet, leaders who take their skills to the next level are able to do so by learning to practice leading through influence.

Leading through influence is all about persuading people to act, even if you are not their direct supervisor. It is a valuable skill to have, especially in situations when taking on roles in large, complex, or “matrixed” organizations.

So, how is leading through influence different than leading with authority? The answer lies in the approach. Influential leaders build relationships, create incentives, and find common ground. It is leading people because they want to to follow you, not because they have to.

Building Effective Relationships

The most impactful way to influence people is through building genuine relationships. People are more likely to work with someone they know and can trust than a stranger. In other words, influential leaders will make lots of deposits into the “Bank of goodwill” before making withdrawals. This happens through listening and looking for ways to help others work to achieve their own goals.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader without authority

Case Study: Martin Luther Kind Jr. was a Leader Without Authority

Martin Luther King, Jr. is an iconic figure in the history of leadership, particularly when it comes to leading without authority. King inspired and influenced others through his words, actions, and relationships. He brought people together to fight for a common cause, even though he did not have any formal authority over them.

One way that King led without authority was through his powerful speeches, which inspired and motivated people to take action. His “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is one of the most famous speeches in history. In it, King shared a vision that others easily understood. He painted a vivid picture of a future where people of all races would live in harmony. He called on Americans to work together to make that vision a reality.

King also used his relationships with other leaders to influence people and effect change. For example, he worked closely with President Lyndon B. Johnson to push for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. King’s relationship with President Johnson helped to build support for the bill among lawmakers and the public. King was able to influence the passage of the law, even though he had no direct authority to make it happen.

Finally, King led without authority by organizing peaceful protests and marches that brought attention to the injustices faced by African Americans. He and other civil rights leaders, including John Lewis, staged sit-ins, boycotts, and other nonviolent actions that disrupted the status quo and forced people to pay attention to their cause. By engaging others and refusing to resort to violence, King was able to win the hearts and minds of people across the country and around the world.

In all these examples, King demonstrated the power of leading through influence rather than authority. By building relationships, inspiring others, and finding common ground, he was able to effect change on a massive scale, despite not having any formal power or authority. His leadership style is still studied and emulated by people all over the world who aspire to make a positive difference in their communities and beyond.

Creating Incentives

Another way to influence people is by creating incentives for them to act. For example, let’s say you’re trying to get your team to adopt a new process. You could use your authority to force them to adopt the process, but that’s not likely to be effective in the long run. Instead, you could create incentives for them to adopt the process on their own. For instance, you could help them discover how the new process would benefit them. You could also give a bonus to whoever follows the new process most often. By creating these incentives, you make it easier for them to follow your lead.

Transparency is also a great way to create incentives. When you’re transparent about your decision-making process and the data you’re using to make your decisions, people are more likely to trust you and follow your lead. For example, if you’re a CEO trying to get your company to adopt a new sustainability initiative, making your sustainability data transparent and showing how it can benefit the company in the long run would make it easier for your employees to get on board.

A Member of Congress is a Leader Without Authority

Most members of Congress are leaders without authority

I was fortunate to have the opportunity early in my life to intern in the United States House of Representatives in Washington, DC. Most members of Congress are leaders without authority. In the House, each member casts 1/435 votes (0.2% of the vote), but it takes at least a majority of members of both the House and the Senate to pass most pieces of legislation. Further, when the legislation is implemented, Congress has no voice, except for oversight of the Executive branch of government to implement the new law.

Before the time of polarization present in Congress today, I would frequently see members of Congress “Cross-the-aisle” to work with members of the opposite party. These members would argue vigorously on one vote and then vote together on the next vote. The best of the bunch could disagree without being disagreeable. We rarely think about taking lessons from politicians, but in leading through influence, most are fluent and talented in that process.

Leading through influence is a valuable skill for any leader to have. By building relationships, creating incentives, and finding common ground with the people you’re trying to persuade, you can achieve great things even without formal authority. Just remember to avoid the pitfalls, and always be sincere and transparent in your approach. With these skills, you can become a leader without authority that people will follow willingly.

Key Takeaways

Leading through influence, rather than authority, is a valuable skill for any leader and becomes more critical as leaders take on more responsibility. To lead through influence, leaders should focus on building relationships, creating incentives, and finding common ground with the people they are trying to persuade. It is important for leaders to avoid pitfalls and be botsincere and transparent in their approach.

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The Difference Between Ideology and Core Values


I sit in a lot of meetings, read a lot of books, and spend time on social media platforms like twitter to get my daily news. Through these mediums, I have found that there is a difference between ideology and core values that are seldom understood and often confused with one another. The goal of this post is to clarify the difference and provide examples.

Let’s start with core values. Core values are essential for leaders who are looking to make change in our world. They are general principles that guide a leaders conduct and decision-making. Core values inherently have humility and an understanding that issues are rarely “black or white”. In other words, core values are an approach to issues and are designed to be applied to any situation as a guide.

For example, let us say that one of your core values is to put the employees interest first. You can use this core value as a lens to guide your thinking and decide between a variety of options. If the company is facing a down quarter, do you consider layoffs, dip into a rainy day fund, or borrow money? If your core value is people first, you may consider the second and third option more seriously. However, your values may say that the company is over staffed and the long-term interest of its employees rests on laying off unneeded positions that are weighing the company down.

Regardless of the ultimate decision in this example, core values allow leaders to make decisions within a context that they have previously, pre-crisis, identified as important.

Core values allows a leader to navigate issues in a prioritized way, considering nuances and thinking deeply.

Leaders with an ideology are often confused with having core values but that is not correct – one does not necessarily correlate with the other. An ideology is a set of rigid beliefs that can limit options and constrict decision making into the small box of dogma.

Unfortunately, some of the best examples of ideology are seen in politics and often tied to identity. For example, partisans (Democrats and Republicans) often accept the party line and promulgate it, sharing distributed talking points on social media. At times, if a political opponent proposes a good idea, it is immediately spun and rejected, if a political ally proposes a bad idea, it is welcomed and elevated. If an idea from any source, even a good one, falls outside the acceptable ideology it is ridiculed and rejected.

Dr. Frances Lee from the University of Maryland discusses the issues with ideology and partisanship in its impact on the US Presidency. In her research, she finds that often the members of Congress not in the President’s party oppose any proposal by the President simply because giving the President a “win” would hurt them politically.

However, if they were guided by core values, and not ideology, perhaps Congress would be better able to put together workable plans to address some of our country’s greatest needs. Being guided by core values would allow legislators to guided by principles that indicate where compromise is acceptable and allow for creativity and consideration of many options, rather than dismissing trade-offs completely. Ideology does not allow compromise because it is understood as morally superior.

The concept reaches far beyond the world of politics. In business, leaders can also get stuck on an ideology. Sticking to a business model as the environment and technology change is its own form of run-away ideology. Blockbuster and Kodak come to minds as example companies that couldn’t adapt because of how much they believed in their business model.

The world is increasingly complicated. Limiting a decision to an ideology oversimplifies complexity and can create tribal politics in organizations or groups. Core values embrace complexity, allow for explanation, and maintains proactivity.

What are your core values? How do they play out in your work? In how you treat others? In how you approach difficult decisions?

Please let me know so that we can continue the discussion!

KEY TAKEAWAY: Core values are essential for leaders to aid in navigating tough decisions proactively. Ideology can be dangerous in limiting decisions to pre-conceived notions and dogmas. How do you define your core values and how do they help you set priorities and make decisions?