How to be influential: Recognizing when authority won’t work

      This is the first of a series of articles about influence.

      Sometimes, we see leadership as the ability to tell other people what to do. In most organizations, employees have tasks assigned to them by some kind of supervisor or manager.

      The side of leadership that is often overlooked is the informal kind of leadership, where someone is able to organize others with no formal chain of command. This doesn’t happen because someone has authority; it happens because they have influence.

      Many of our coaching clients have to wield both influence and authority in both their professional roles and personal lives, regardless if they’re a Manager, Director, or part of the C-Suite.

      Consider the following situations where influence is required instead of authority:

      • Collaborating with peers from other departments or functional areas to create a new solution;
      • Any creative problem-solving done with your team where a top-down approach would harm your relationships with the people you supervise;
      • Being a volunteer or a board member for a non-profit or charity;
      • “Managing Up” and getting people who have authority over you to see things from your perspective;
      • Being the parent of a teenager;

      When leaders are unable to enforce their opinions with a chain of command, they often find it difficult to advance their points of view informally. This leads to frustration, heated conversations, and wasted time.

      Learning how to influence the people around you can help you be more effective by speeding up understanding, facilitating idea generation and creating opportunities for making decisions that have universal buy-in.

      Even in situations when you are able to lean on your authority, using influence instead can leave a better impression on the people that report to you.

      In following articles, we’ll discuss ways to have influence in conversations and meetings: sharing context, telling stories, asking questions, and being present in the room.