Art of Influencing without authority

Recently I participated in a corporate training aiming on influencing teams for high performance. We were taught several aspects of leaderships that play a key role in influencing an individual. What caught my attention was the ability of a leader to influence without an authority. I mean, traditional leadership success stories have always been of individuals who had significant authority in their role who would wave a wand and get things done, but in the current age of collaborative environments, can someone still do so without any given authority?

Let’s understand this with an example.

Sarah worked for a large organization for over 12 years when she decided to quit. She has a good 20 years of corporate experience and has been an asset in all the three companies she worked for. So when she decided to venture into entrepreneurship during the last lockdown, her company was reluctant to let her go. Not only was Sarah good at her work, she was also a great team-mate. Yet, Sarah insisted she be relieved, only to be let go by the company on the condition that she stays connected as a consultant. For the past few months, Sarah visits the old company often and is surprised to see how the young recruits, along with her former colleagues, greet her fondly. She is able to provide valuable insights to the company even without being an employee anymore. I find this an interesting situation where you are able to influence without authority. There must be something wonderful about Sarah that she is able to influence so many people.

My search for reasons how some people manage to influence others even while they do not hold any authority led me to believe that authority/position is just a non-essential requisite when it comes to human connections. Some myths got busted along the way:

  • That one needs to hold a higher position to get work from others
  • That people working under you listen and deliver whatever you tell them if you wield some authority over them (Most of us have experienced that the employees wouldn’t budge an inch even when told by the boss in specific cases)
  • That position matters when it comes to displaying leadership

In my observation over a couple of decades of my work experience, I have crossed all the above three myths with a resounding NO. If a person in authority cannot wield any influence unless he proves his mettle, imagine how it will be for someone who holds no authority.

In my early days in the job, my reputation as the go-to guy in matters pertaining to troubled projects aspects had spread far and wide. I frequently got calls from across different departments to assist in their troubled projects which I gladly did. The more I helped solve these problems, the more I was beckoned, though I was almost half the age than many of the seniors.

What then, are the reasons that some can influence without authority

  1. Your expertise:Knowing your work like a pro, keeping yourself updated about the latest in your field and sharpening your skills sets you as an expert in what you do. Instead of spreading your net far and wide, focus on obtaining deep knowledge of a few topics. That way, you will establish yourself as the person one would look out for help. Knowledge always attracts respect. When people know that you know, they will seek out for you.
  2. Your networking abilities: That one person who knows the who’s who of the industry or the city is much in demand for his resourcefulness. Being resourceful means you need to have information about varied matters and updated at that. Where to find the repair guy, who would supply raw material in time, whom to meet to get the clearances, what to do when your application is rejected in the govt. office, when to submit tenders and such information is crucial for businesses. People who know the nitty gritties of such things are again sought after and respected for their value.
  3. Being a people magnet: Some people just attract other people as though they were a pied-piper. Wherever they go, they make new friends quickly, stay friends forever, help out people, help connect people from diverse fields and get along with anyone like long-lost friends. They’re extremely accommodative and remember people’s names and faces with ease. Such people obviously are endearing for their resourcefulness. They create long-lasting relationships and value those. Everyone trust’s them for their transparency and genuinely friendly attitude.
  4. Knowing the organization inside out: And everything else associated with it. An organization is a dynamic entity. It is a living breathing being that thrives on people’s attitudes. Those who know the organization fully well, the people associated with it – old and new, the rules, the precedents, the past mistakes and actions taken, the strengths and weaknesses as well as the potential, the legal issues and media relations, turn valuable influencers without holding a considerable authority. Many times, it could also be some employee in the clerical cadre who is aware about the intricate fabric of the organization. Leaders seek out such people when they need to have a pulse of the organization before taking major decisions.
  5. Focusing on personal progression: If you do not have any of the above traits, and still wish to have considerable influence over others (or wonder why you don’t influence anyone), you need to develop these attributes with some effort. Focus on personal growth by acquiring new skill sets, qualifications or experience. Take on challenging tasks, initiate key drives that benefit the company. Volunteer to work in a project that few opt for. Gain as much knowledge as you can from different sources. Strengthen your repertoire through conscious efforts. That way, you develop yourself as a key influencer by virtue of your efforts. Inertia had helped none.

Everyone wishes to be asked and heard but few take efforts to become worthy of being one. Having an influence over people, their careers, major decisions and the company’s strategy helps you strengthen yourself in the organization. It also raises you higher in terms of career prospects when you are the first choice whenever someone needs help. It is not always the position or the authority that matters. To the contrary, people in authority may be unable to have any influence over others. That is because they bring little in value on the table. It is the intrinsic value that you bring that determines your worth. So how can you expect to have an impact when you’re just one among the thousands of others?

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