The status leaders hold in a social or organizational hierarchy gives them the legitimacy to direct action and compel people to perform. Teachers, parents, and leaders all benefit from this legitimate status as others defer to the authority imbued in the position they hold.
However, leading peers, as well as others who do not directly report to them, can present status leaders with unique challenges. The challenge of “Influencing Without Authority” is an ever-popular topic. Unraveling this challenge comes down to the nature of power and where it comes from.
When we hold social status in the eyes of others, our power to influence comes from the authority they confer to us. When we lack authority, we must find power from a different source to compel others to listen and yield to us. Power, in the most basic terms, is about holding a resource.
In the case of authority, the resource is status. Influencing without authority is all about finding another resource that compels others to act in the way we would like them to. The list of resources available to leaders (beyond status) is longer than you might think. Knowledge, skill, relationships, advocacy, access, support, information, inclusion, reward, and time, among many others, can convey power in much the same way as authority in the hands of a seasoned leader.
Influencing peers and others not beholden to us requires creating power with a resource unconnected to authority. By emphasizing this source of power, leaders are able to sway others and compel them to action with equal force over time.
When the currency of power shifts from authority to a less-used resource, such as who listens to us (advocacy power), who trusts us (relationship power), or how we can make things easier (support power), leaders quickly learn that a more dynamic approach to power is often superior to simple authority.
Moreover, leaders who are great at getting others to act when they don’t hold authority become even better at influencing when they are in the driver’s seat with legitimate status.
Perhaps, the idea of influencing without authority is best understood as a proving ground for how leaders should operate all of the time. Leaning too heavily on authority to get things done is the weakest form of leadership. Where does your power come from in any given situation? Maybe it’s time to expand your resources.