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Corporate Culture

Leading by Influence vs. Authority

Terri Jensen
Terri Jensen
Holmes Murphy Corporate

Influence and authority — is there a difference when it comes to leadership? Yes!

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines influence as “the power to change or affect someone or something: the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.” On the other hand, authority is defined as “the power to give orders or make decisions: the power or right to direct or control someone or something.”

“The power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen” — that’s a tall order in leadership. So how do you accomplish this and how do you create positive influence in your organization?

I believe it starts with active listening and observation, continues with addressing the “why,” and expands by gaining and keeping the respect of those around you.

For purposes of this blog, I’m going to use the technology field as my example of how this all works.

In the technology field, we’re fortunate to learn about an entire organization. We see the details, and we look at the big picture. Sitting down with co-workers and asking questions about what is going right and where possible improvements exist is a great start. Listening to what is being said and digging a little deeper to find the root cause of a problem takes persistence and patience. When you find the root cause, a solution can be developed.

Once a solution is identified, its benefits need to be communicated. People can be resistant to change, especially when they don’t see the advantages or they feel threatened by a new approach. Frequent communication is important. And then, go straight back to listening. If someone is apprehensive, listen to their concerns and don’t disregard their apprehension. Address all concerns head-on. For every person who is voicing concern, there are others who don’t speak up. Be an advocate and stay close to those who are affected.

Finally, be sure to follow through on every promise made. When you deliver on promises, people are more willing to come to you with future suggestions. You gain their trust and respect. From there, your influence grows.

Authority often comes from a person’s position in a company. Influence is blind to role, level, and title. Anyone can be a positive influence in an organization. And influencers are difference makers!

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