I am recently going up against what I believe a lot of people struggle with in the work place. In former positions, my sphere of influence was greater than where I find myself now. I used to have all control and authority to do what I needed to do to get the job done with full top-down support and financing. I was directly influencing the audiences I needed to, and had some incredible outcomes.
In a newer position with a larger company, I find myself vying to influence a larger amount of people, but with minimal authority. I always thought that in order to be influential, all I needed to do was communicate well. I am finding that there is a lot more to it, particularly as it relates to organizational change – a good result of my new role. Over the course of time, being able to influence decisions has become more difficult, and I end up running into a lot of internal politics that stymie movement.
Below is a series of articles that provide some valuable insight over conquering or, at least, accepting this dilemma.
How to Influence Without Authority by Jesse Lyn Stoner
This article provides 8 ways to influence without having authority including character, expertise, information, connectedness, social intelligence, network, collaboration, and funding. The author also gives some guidelines for influencing without authority and talks about not having any hidden agendas. My favorite quote from this article: “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.”
This article provides some valuable insight into what steps can be used to overcome needing support or commitment from peers, and/or executive leadership. The article details the steps and provides some good advice assuming that the end-result will be win-win. It seems like this model would be easier to use on a peer-to-peer basis. However, I also see advantages of following these steps when needing to engage those persons who have higher authority. For me, the most important step is to make sure to “…keep your personal wants and goals out of the situation. For instance you may subconsciously want to be seen as “right,” or you may want to have the “last word.” These personal motivations often get in the way of effective negotiation. Focus on your work goals, and leave personal motivators or drivers aside.”
Exerting Influence Without Authority by Harvard Business Review blog entry. I thoroughly enjoyed this article. While it was dated back in 2008, there are plenty of takeaways that are pivotal when trying to drive change without having the resources or authority. The article introduces the concept of lateral leadership. Partnering with peers and involving collaborative partners will absolutely help in driving an initiative forward. The article discusses networking being key in cultivating the portals you are going to need to influence change. It also discusses increasing knowledge in the art of constructive persuasion, negotiation, and consultation. At the end of the day, collaboration with others who would typically be bystanders as this initiative is dropped in their laps, is the best approach to creating influence even without authority. The article states, “To assemble a powerful coalition, begin by asking yourself who’s most likely to be affected by the change you’re proposing. Whose “blessing” do you need—whether in the form of political support or access to important resources or individuals? Whose buy-in is crucial to your initiative’s success?” The article concludes by speaking about the challenges and successes of lateral leadership.
Something else to keep in mind is a profound insight from John Hester’s article, Influencing Without Authority, or Even With It – 4 Key Behaviors, that said, “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…”
Other research also points out that it is still important to recognize that authority is what it is, authority. In one interesting video about authority, Jeffrey Gitomer says “I just read this quote: “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” It sounds good when you first hear it, but it’s not only completely without merit, it’s also downright dangerous. The quote should say, “One of the MANY keys to successful leadership today is influence.” It bugs me when someone attempts wisdom, and it flies in the face of logic, emotion, and especially reality. Imagine a person of great influence standing outside a major corporation, but not having a job at the company, let alone a position of authority. Would anyone take action? Would anyone follow that guy? Would anyone even listen? The “influencer with no authority” would probably get his biggest chance telling it to the judge after being hauled off by security.”
It is important not to step out of bounds when trying to influence. The articles mentioned above provide some great insight into what a person with no authority can do. I would like to add, in ALL cases, make sure that your boss or supervisor is aware of what you are doing behind the scenes to get what you need to be successful. The last thing you want to do is create a situation where you can no longer be trusted because you are perceived to be off having secret collaborative lunches with fellow employees about goodness knows what. While gaining momentum and collaborating in order to enhance the bottom line may seem innocent enough, it is also important to remember that part of this collaboration/lateral leadership/networking/influencing exercise should be maintained under the parameters of the authority figures you report to.
In one circumstance, I was having a hard time dealing with internal politics and understanding what I needed to do to gain momentum for an initiative. I asked for some advice from one of my personal “influencers” who said:
“Always keep the chain of command involved, unless it is something like sexual harassment. Be professional and do not allow emotion get in the way of discussion. Allow for the fact that others have differing priorities and understand that their report cards are not the same as yours. Schedule information exchanges far enough in advance to allow adequate time for planning. Get release approval for information from your supervisors, then send out reminders and material read ahead information prior to meetings.
Do your job and be proactive in ensuring your job is done…do not do the job of others …that is never your function.
Periodic status reports that are sent to your boss with cc’s to peers and others in the chain of command might work but get the boss’s approval on the distribution first.
There will always be internal politics, successful people know how to work within the construct rather than fight the construct.”
It is possible to be influential without having authority. It is also important not to compromise personal or the company’s integrity by trying to gain that influence. Becoming influential comes with time and with proper acknowledgement and understanding of a company’s hierarchy.