Introduction to Leading Without Authority

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What are key attributes needed for leading without authority?

  • Integrity
  • Trust   
  • Empathetic listening. Listen with the intent to understand and relate to where the other person is coming from.
  • Networking: cultivate a broad network of relationships within and outside of your organization.
  • Consultation: Take time to visit the people whose buy-in you need. Ask their opinions about the initiative you’re championing. Get their ideas as well as their reactions to your ideas.
  • Coalition building: 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?
  • 5 Strategies to Lead Without Authority (Grainger, Kotterinc.com): 
  • Ask Questions. People who ask questions of colleagues and peers are expressing a sincere interest in these individuals’ issues and concerns. By taking the time to reflect on what you hear, you’re perceived as someone open to others’ opinions. A rational, open-minded deportment will inspire people to come to you for advice and support, making you a natural-born leader.
  • Exhibit Enthusiasm. If you love what you do, let others know why. Most people take great pride (as well they should) in being able to solve business-related problems. Such individuals love challenges and seek to understand their causes and impact before finding solutions. Your enthusiasm in doing the same tells others that you’re someone worth following. People naturally gravitate toward a source of energy.
  • Seek Outcomes, Not Titles. Leaders typically rise through corporate ranks—up one notch, then another, then another. There’s nothing wrong with this hierarchical ascendance unless the motivation is the title and the opportunity it provides to boss others around. Character is measured by one’s response to failure. The ability to bounce back from a mistake is a sign of true leadership—hence the maxim, “Fail often to succeed sooner.”
  • Remember That Everything Is Personal. Human capital is a company’s most important capital. To lead without authority requires empathy — an appreciation that fellow employees lead lives outside the business, with family and health issues, financial stressors and all the other ups and downs of life. Awareness of others’ feelings — by being a good listener who is nonjudgmental — is a sign of emotional intelligence that will rally people around you. No one leads alone.
  • Follow the Leader. Recognize leadership qualities in others. By supporting such individuals, you’ll energize others to follow your lead in support of these people. Coalition building is just as important as calling the shots. Besides, your coworkers will then come to see you as someone interested in the greater good of the organization.
  • Start where it’s easiest. Nurture your relationship with someone with whom you can have a positive experience “co-elevating”. Invite them to join you on challenging and aspirational projects. Then find others to join you. Don’t waste time trying to convince resisters. If you build momentum with a group of interested people, others may come around later.
  • Check your hot button priority. Sometimes you need to start building your team in the midst of a crisis and have to work with the team you have. The urgency of the crisis may help you forge the necessary bonds for a productive co-elevating relationship.
  • Look for those you admire and want to learn from. Pay attention and note who offers the most interesting insights. Is there a project you can imagine co-creating with them not just for the project’s impact but for the learning experience or to deepen the relationship?  Are there people who are “diamonds in the rough” who are being underutilized and who might become energized if you came to them with an idea? Who would be ideal partners to help you develop and produce breakthroughs?
  • Identify someone you believe would benefit from your help. Connect with them and coach them. Take responsibility for making a positive difference in that person’s career so you can make a positive difference toward the project or mission at hand.
  • Face the person or problem you’re avoiding. Sometimes we avoid certain people and projects because they hold an important key to our success. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Heroism” he passed along this advice: “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
  • Be systematic and scale. As you become more comfortable with co-elevating people, expand the scale of your relationships by becoming more systematic using a tool such as a relationship action plan (RAP). Make a prioritized list of your most important relationships for each project or team you’re working with. Ask yourself, “What’s my goal for this particular RAP?”.  Take notes and define the specific outcome you hope to create with each member of your co-elevating team.
  • Influence without Authority (Allan Cohen & David Bradford): To gain influence, follow this six-step model:
  1. Consider everyone as a potential friend and ally.
  2. Clearly identify and define your objectives and priorities.
  3. See the world through the eye of those you seek to influence.
  4. Find out what other people value, and what you can offer in exchange. Know also precisely what you value and will accept.
  5. Understand your relationship with those you want to influence, and understand what kind of relationship they want.
  6. Exercise influence through a process of mutual exchange and mutual benefit.
  • Learn to Lead without Authority (Lisa Woods):  To develop your emotional intelligence in your relationships with others, ask yourself the following questions:
  • What is the difference between what this person is saying and what they really mean to say? Ask questions to broaden your understanding.
  • What can I do to understand the underlying motivation for this person’s behavior, always assuming your initial interpretation is wrong? Try to keep an open mind and never judge any individual.
  • What can I do to help others without forcing my opinion on them? Collaborate, share your views, and join your ideas with theirs by focusing on the task at hand, not the result you originally interpreted.

Practice taking on leadership roles in your organization.  Volunteering to lead special projects or meetings are good ways to start incorporating these skills and being visible as a leader in your group.  You will make mistakes, the important thing is that you notice them…that is what practicing is all about.  When you use these skills, take some time at the end of your day to reflect on how well you did.  Define your opportunity to lead and ask yourself.

  1. Did I do a good job of listening?
  2. Did I show enthusiasm in my own behavior and about the ideas of others?
  3. Did I lead others to follow someone else’s lead?
  4. Did I capture the perspective of each individual on the team, or in the meeting?
  5. Have I/We identified what we are really trying to achieve?
  6. Did I create next steps and get agreement from all parties on follow-up?
  • Name of example: Description of the example with link to page that illustrates the example. The example page will include links to relevant resources on models/frameworks, attributes, skills and tools.

Name of example: Description of the example with link to page that illustrates the example. The example page will include links to relevant resources on models/frameworks, attributes, skills and tools.

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