No matter what your organizational model, your leadership job or role frequently requires buy-in from people outside your direct authority.
I see it all the time: in today’s complex and dotted-line cultures influencing people who report to someone else can prove daunting—and an even greater challenge if you confuse the principles of leadership and authority.
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Fortunately, this has become an outdated philosophy that ignores basic human behavior.
Authority or 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 and this is 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 thus leaders who consistently leverage their authority to lead are less effective in the long term than leaders who leverage their influence.
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.
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 and the good news is that any determined leader can work to increase his or her level of positive leadership influence.