In the midst of great social, economic, scientific, and political change, intelligent approaches and true leadership count more than ever. Your job frequently requires buy-in from people beyond your authority. Influencing people who report to someone else can prove daunting—and an even greater challenge if you confuse the principles of leadership and authority. (They’re not the same.)

Contrary to what you may have learned in leadership training, you can effectively guide people who are outside your realm of authority. To do so, you must understand what leadership truly is and how it appears to those who are looking for it.

The traditional model of leadership requires control (authority) to “make” people do what they need to do. Pulling rank, so the thinking goes, forces them to fall in line and meet goals and objectives. Fortunately, this has become an outdated philosophy that, we have come to realize, ignores basic human behavior.

Authority Vs. True Leadership

People apply themselves and do their best when they want to, not when they’re forced to. From a motivational standpoint, they seek interest, satisfaction, purpose, inspiration and personal reward. Having a sense of value and accomplishment encourages engagement—a virtually impossible prospect when they feel they’re being controlled.

Leadership fosters inspiration, whereas authority produces obligation. Authority is the supervisory responsibility to direct, decide and delegate. It is sometimes misused for personal gain.

In contrast, leadership establishes goals or visions and inspires people to achieve them—a process accomplished through influence. Those influenced positively will follow willingly (the essence of true leadership).

Leadership success depends on knowing how to influence people and breed a desire to follow (as opposed to trying to mandate it via formal authority). Following a leader is a choice based on desire; trying to mandate it is misguided and ultimately doomed to fail.

Influence is the foundation of leadership, according to Clay Scroggins, author of How to Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority (Zondervan, 2017). “Leaders who consistently leverage their authority to lead are less effective in the long term than leaders who leverage their influence,” he writes. Again, human behavior is the driving factor.

While almost everyone has the ability to influence others and lead in some capacity, many leaders fail to be inspirational and fall back into their default position: an insistence on asserting their authority. Ugh! Numerous research studies confirm that positional authority does not guarantee effective leadership. In fact, you don’t have to look far to see strongly wielded authoritative power that led to some of the poorest leadership outcomes.

Your ability to influence people will determine whether you can lead those who report to others. In my following posts, I’ll share how you can increase your sphere of influence.

In the meantime, consider how people in your organization lead. Do they leverage their authority, or influence? What about you? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 561-582-6060; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

Showing 2 comments
  • Robert J. Menke

    Hi Nancy, I think I’m suffering from Nancy withdrawal!

    As an influencer, I love this article.

    I realized a long time ago that there were two kinds of bosses.
    1. The kind you work for.
    2. The kind that you want to work for.
    Having someone who not only listened but used my ideas (and didn’t take credit for them) made a tremendous impact on me in my early career. I try to apply the lessons I learned throughout my life and from you, in my daily choices. Engaged, involved people accomplish far more than the robots we create by relying on authority alone.

    • Coach Nancy

      Your distinction is spot on as to types of managers. Do you think the employee can control the way the boss manages by focusing on what it is they need to do a good job and begin to openly discuss what they need with the boss? Could it be that often times, the boss just doesn’t realize how they are coming across? Rarely, unless they have little self confidence, is a boss intentionally trying to be a knucklehead!

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