Influence NOT Authority

To lead without authority requires a person to have a lot of influence. When it comes to leadership, there is nothing more important than influence.

Job titles and leadership positions do not matter. The more people who realise that, the more people we will have with an increased influence.

A lot of people, and actually a lot of managers think that to be a leader, you must have authority. That couldn’t be further from the truth. To be a highly effective leader, you MUST have influence over your people, whether they are your team, or you are leading them in a project.

Authority is not required to be a true highly effective leader.

Have you ever heard your line manager or team leader say things like, “You guys aren’t listening to me, and you don’t do what I tell you.” Or, “The team keeps missing targets.” Or, “They are not my responsibility, I can’t tell them what to do”?

I bet you have. You see, what your line manager or team leader is really saying to you or the team is, “I have absolutely no influence over you and the team. How do I increase my influence with you?”

1. How Do You Increase Your Influence

What I teach and the message I try to put across to all the people I work with is, leadership is not a job title or a senior position within your organisation. Leadership is influence, and I help others to try and increase their influence. This article and my website is a resource that will teach you how to increase your influence.

When I worked closely with teams, whether I was their formal leader or not, I knew how to increase my influence with them. I tried to build a strong relationship with each individual and add value to them every day. By doing that I was helping them to develop and I was giving up my time to do that.

Some of the formal leaders who I worked with had zero influence because they were not willing to build those strong, meaningful relationships with their people. They made the excuse of not having the time. Really poor excuse in my opinion.

It is the leader’s role to inspire their people and help them to make things happen. With a lot of the formal leaders I worked with, they didn’t believe that it was their role to make things happen with their people or their team.

They had the attitude of putting their feet up and letting the team make things happen without any of the formal leader’s input. They had no influence on their people anyway, so even if they wanted to make things happen, it would be very difficult for them.

I on the other hand knew how to make things happen with the team, and we made things happen together because we had strong relationships and we had influence with each other.

During the time I worked in Scotland as an engineering production manager, when on shift, I worked with different teams who didn’t all report in to me. So for the engineering production team to work well, I needed to have a strong, authentic influence with them.

2. Influencing People Outside Your Charge

This was difficult because the engineers who didn’t report into me had their own line managers, and they didn’t like me or the other production managers having an influence. There was a particular line manager who raised an issue with me when I tried to implement a new idea that would involve his team.

This line manager led the heavy maintenance team, so what they did was replace the heavier equipment on the trains when they needed overhauling. For example, motors and wheels. Anyway, the idea I wanted to help their team with was process and quality checking.

We were getting complaints from senior leaders that the trains were not in as good a state as they had been previously. This was a big deal because we didn’t want to get any customer complaints that could hurt our reputation.

The heavy maintenance manager did not like my idea to improve our processes and quality, in fact he wasn’t bought in to any new ideas. He was a very old school kind of person.

When he raised the issue of not liking the quality and process checking idea, he complained to me that it would take too much time for his team to carry out further checks on quality after they had completed their work.

Therefore the trains would not get out on time and cause delays. He was frightened that his boss (who was also my boss) would give him a “kicking” if his team delayed the trains.

I suggested to him, “What if we used a couple of members from another team to work alongside your team, and check the process and quality of work while they were still working?” Hi reply to me was “That wouldn’t work because it would slow my team down, and because the other teams don’t listen to me, it wouldn’t work anyway.”

This was just an excuse not to make this change, and I had heard the same excuse on a lot of other ideas I wanted to implement.

Basically, this heavy maintenance manager had no influence within his own team, or outside of his team. He was not a leader, and did not know how to build relationships with anyone. All he could do was make excuses.

I asked him, “Before we totally diminish this idea completely, why don’t we give it a trial run, and let a couple of other team members work alongside your team?” He immediately said no, but I kept on at him for about a week.

I was explaining the benefits and how by doing this we could improve the quality of our trains. He gave in and agreed to do it, but he said, “If this goes wrong, I am blaming you.” Not very inspiring.

3. How To Make Things Happen

When I went to his team and discussed the idea with them, they were more than happy to trial it. I had a lot of influence with his team because I built relationships with every one of them, and tried to help them as best I could.

So, we did the trial for about a month and it worked really well. The teams were great and worked really well together. In the end, we implemented the quality and process checks permanently. The quality of the trains improved and there were hardly any delays either.

The reason the heavy maintenance manager was refusing to do this trial was because he feared change, but also he had no influence with his team. He thought that if he went to his team and asked them to do the trial, they would refuse.

Which was right, they would have. But, because I asked them, they did it. Why is that? He didn’t have any influence, and I did. He didn’t have a relationship with his team, and I did.

He had the authority over his team, and I had the influence. Influence wins every time.

4. Working On your Character

To increase your influence with people, you must work on your character. Character is who we are, not what we do, or what we know. It is your competency that is what you know.

Working on your character every day will enable you to increase your influence with everyone who comes into contact with you. Whether that be your team, colleagues, line managers, senior leaders, friends, or family.

When working on your own character, you must also help the team you lead work on, and improve their character too. This will help you to create a leadership culture and environment within your team, and also outside of your team.

This happens when your team members increase their influence throughout the organisation. The leadership culture can start with you, but then organically increase through your team.

To be a highly effective leader, you must lead by example through character based leadership. You must teach those leadership principles that you display to your team. By developing yours and your team’s leadership, you are developing your character.

By developing your character you are increasing your influence. By increasing your influence you are increasing the impact that you are making. Help your team to increase their impact, and your organisation will increase their impact too.

Leadership is like going the gym. To get into shape you must workout. To become a highly effective leader you must work on your character, and add value to others…every day.

People say you are either a natural born leader, or you are not. WRONG! 

I welcome hearing how this post has influenced the way you think, the way you lead, or the results you have achieved because of what you’ve learned in it. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below.

Check out my other articles by Clicking HERE

All the best,

Tom (LeadGrowInfluence)

18 thoughts on “Influence NOT Authority

  1. Hi Tom, I really enjoyed this article. I have been on both sides of the conversation as a “manager” as well as a “follower”. I think what you say is absolutely true. Management style is so important and being able to influence those around you is a huge contributor to any success.

    I do not respond very well to authority, so a collaborative approach to management is important to me. I live to feel listened to and valued and I hope in turn I make others feel the same way.

    In the “real world” I am a Project Manager in Aerospace, so having that influence on all stakeholders is vital.

    1. Hi Emma,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the article and found it valuable.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences as a follower and as a leader. You mention management style, but remember when we are dealing with people it is leadership that we must convey. I’m pretty sure you are aware of that.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom,

    Just reading your story of working on the trains in Scotland, and especially your interactions with the heavy maintanance manager, brings back a lot of (painful) memories for me.

    Admittedly, we worked in completely different jobs/sectors/industries, but the process of butting-heads with someone “old school”, who wasn’t willing to listen to reason, let alone change their ways, rings very true to me.

    I guess there was a time when being a leadership role meant that authority was the most important thing.

    However, I love the way you have spoken here about having an influence over our teams, and I can attest that this type of behaviour works very well.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this article Tom.

    Thanks
    Partha

    1. Hi Partha,

      Thank you for your very thorough comment as always. I’m so pleased that you found the article valuable and that it brought back some memories, painful or not.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, I can relate and I’m pretty sure lots of other people will be able to relate too. There certainly was a time, and still is true today that rank and authority are more important than influence. “Old School” is still very new today unfortunately.

      We can change this and I love how you help people at https://helpyousleep.org, and I will ensure to keep reading your posts there too.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  3. Very good content. I always search for such contents on the net. This seems to be of great help in all the aspects. You have touched all the verticals of personality & leadership.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Rajesh,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really pleased that you found the article valuable.

      It’s great that you feel that my content is of great help, and I will most certainly keep up the good work.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  4. Tom,

    As a Behavioural Strategist, your article resonates. If there was a way to bottle ‘influence’ and sell it in a leadership store, I would! So many people out there, just do not get it There is no need to be in a formal management or leadership position to have deep and meaningful influence. The mere fact that someone wants to be like you means that you are influential to them. As you have so eloquently said, that means working on your character – WHO you are.

    I found your post refreshing, simple and motivating. As influence should be.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    Cassandra

    1. Hi Cassandra,

      Thank you for your comment and your very kind words. I am so pleased that the article resonates with you.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on influence. You are so right that working on your character and WHO you are is so important, even more important than working on your competencies.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  5. Fantastic article, Tom! You hit the nail on the head: influence trumps authority. I’ve often found that people tend to let their job titles go to their heads (I’m the founder, so I’m the boss! What I say goes; it’s my way, or the highway!), and when this happens, their coworkers (whether “above” or “beneath” them) react very negatively (i.e. shattered company morale and productivity). I have left firms for this very reason-those in charge didn’t know how to be true leaders, they “ruled with an iron fist,” they refused to take constructive criticism, and they made everyone feel like a disposable body instead of a valued member of the company. That’s not positive influence; that’s tyranny. I have saved your site and will definitely share it with my friends and family! God bless you!

    1. Hi C.N.,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you found the article fantastic and valuable.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences on this topic. When you say you left your jobs because of your boss, that is 99% the very reason why everyone leaves their jobs. I have left jobs for the very same reason. It had nothing to do with the job or the work, it had everything to do with my boss’s character. The same is true when we fire people. We fire people because of their character, not because they performed badly or anything else.

      Great points you made.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  6. Great article. I agree with everything you said. John Maxwell, in his best selling book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” defines Leadership in one word, “Influence”. I think you’re in good company with that concept which you describe so well in your article.

    1. Hi Glenn,

      Thank you for your comment and for associating me with John Maxwell. He is my absolute leadership role model, along with Simon Sinek. I’m so pleased that you found the article valuable.

      The 21 Irrefutible Laws of Leadership was the first leadership book I ever read in 2011, and it is like a bible to me. You obviously are well read on leadership too and I am honoured that you have read my article and visited my website.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  7. One thing I have learnt from managing people for years now is my temperament. To be able to stay focused and maintain authority during challenging times has been invaluable to me.

    To be able to take that split second to respond has been the difference between defusing a situation and people walking out the door with their P45.

    So when you speak of influence, that is one of the key factors which has saved me from the guillotine on various occasions.

    Great post pal.

    1. Hi LJ,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really happy that you found the article helpful.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences in being a manager and a leader. You are so right, influence is what makes the difference between a manager and a leader because leadership is influence. Well done on being a great leader and keep up the amazing work you are doing.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  8. This is just great you’ve put together Tom. Thank you. So the present topic and you looked on it with very progressive, yet meaningful, positive and in many cases needed approach. I agree with you 100% that position doesn’t mean, the person is the right leader at all. And yes in my own short employment history, did I come across more incompetent managers or leaders like the competent one. That is very sad at one point of view, but on the other side, it offers a place for innovative and new ideas. The question is if they have a place to be implemented. Because as you mentioned in the example out of your job, there are plenty of “old fashioned” thinking guts, and it is oftentimes a very hard job to make them believe in the new, very often helping ideas. In this case, maybe the company can also provide regular trainings on their managers, to improve their leadership. Maybe a suggestion for you to discuss with your bosses, if they are willing to it.
    I think indeed that you can improve your influence and you don’t have to be necessarily born with that., even though it will help. I am sure people will find your article helpful. Keep on producing this awesome content of yours. Cheers.

    1. Hi Julius,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you found the article great and valuable.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and also your experiences of working with managers and leaders. I will definitely keep producing content regularly.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  9. Hi Tom,

    It’s another great article about a highly effective leader. I worked with a lot of leaders in my career. I didn’t like to work with formal leaders who were not willing to build a good relationship with me. They just ordered me to finish my task and it was all my fault if there were any mistakes. Fortunately, I also worked with a few “True” leaders. As you said in the article, they were willing to build a relationship with me and help me to develop my personality and expertise. They always will become my friends later on.

    Therefore, you are correct. A highly effective leader can influence his team members. It’s nothing about authority.

    All the best,

    Alex

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really happy that you found the article helpful.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences of working with leaders. I know how you feel as I have worked with leaders who just ordered us about, in fact they were not leaders at all. It’s great that you have also worked with true leaders too and that you can tell the difference and see what influence is.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

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