How to lead with influence instead of authority

It is important to understand that leadership is not about title, level, or office. Equally important to mention is that the best of leaders are even better followers.

Clearly, leadership potential exists within each of us. That potential can be triggered by outside events, or it can be learned by exploring ourselves from within. In this article, we will focus on the latter approach. Once you learn the superpower of gig economy leadership, you will be able to build the confidence it takes to take the lead and influence … and leap tall buildings in a single bound.

They say that leaders are born, not made. While it is true that some people are born leaders, most leaders are forged the flames of adversity. Often, it is the individual contributor who has never had a leadership role will stand up and take the lead when a situation they care about requires it. As long as there have been leaders, there have been those who tried to determine how and why they were successful. It is important to understand that leadership is not about title, level, or office. Equally important to mention is that the best of leaders are even better followers.


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Leadership is not telling others what to do. Leadership is inspiring others to do what needs to be done. A title alone does not make you a leader. Genuine leaders take a stand and motivate others to join them in a noble purpose. It is through the skills of influence that leadership works best. Everyone has leadership potential within them, and understanding these concepts will help you maximize your leadership ability whether you lead a team, or as an individual contributor without positional authority.

Influence is subtle, yet incredibly powerful. You can order someone to do a task, but you cannot order them to do their best. It simply does not work and usually has the opposite effect. You can influence people to do their best by providing a strong, motivating example in addition to positive reinforcement. Leadership addresses tasks, while influence addresses attitudes and awareness. Influence is the soul of leadership. What are the attributes of an individual who is influential without authority?

  • Knowledge that is valued by those in authority because of institutional memory and administrative turnover
  • Credibility built through actions, such as thinking beyond oneself and working towards building a larger – mutually beneficial – goal
  • Integrity shown through possessing a set of core values that guide what they do, combined with an ability to project core values through actions

Leadership is neither for the timid nor for the arrogant. Confidence is often resented or misinterpreted for arrogance. People who lack self-confidence often feel intimidated by a true leader. This should never hold you back. If you have honesty, integrity and deal with everyone fairly, then others will see that. Be willing to listen to criticism, but also consider the source. If you are too afraid of what others might say about you, or you ignore legitimate complaints insisting on respect solely because of your position, you will lose the respect and cooperation of your followers and peers.

Believe it or not, the most powerful influence you can have is often not trying to influence someone. When people believe you are open to their suggestions and believe they have been heard, they will work harder even if they disagree with the methods or goals. That is the power of listening. Simply listening to others makes them feel empowered, even if you don’t accept their suggestions. If a person feels there’s no point talking to you, they won’t, and they will disengage themselves and only follow your directions begrudgingly. So how do you exert influence without authority?

  • Understand those whom you want to influence
  • Focus primarily on attributes of those who are recognized as influential without authority because they are able to effectively use those attributes in a variety of contexts in order to either be heard or influence others
  • Raise questions without seeming to push an agenda, especially when you are socially or in a vulnerable position

You by now have heard the age-old anecdote that perception is reality. And that is a truth in influencing. You must always present an honest, caring, dedicated attitude to inspire your employees and peers. In addition to truly inspiring loyalty, you must also have a proven track record of honesty and fairness in the face of adversity. If any of your followers feel you have wronged them, for whatever reason, you need to address the issue immediately. People talk, and a problem that is ignored today is a problem that can grow into team eroding conflict later.

Leading without influence means making it a point to be seen by your team every day, which sends a powerful message to everyone. If you are seen as going the extra mile, your team is more likely to go the extra mile. If you hide in your office and people never see you, you will be perceived as out of the loop, uninformed, uninterested, and therefore unworthy to lead.

The more experience you have using your new leadership superpower, the easier it will be for you to be an agile leader. While it is never easy to take the lead, or easy to make in the moment decisions and face challenges, it can become natural and rewarding as you become a force for good leadership in today’s gig economy workforce.

Curtis L. Odom, Ed.D.|is the President of Stuck On Start Coaching, a boutique career-coaching firm serving the needs of recent college graduates, and early career professionals