Leading Without Formal Authority

In today’s complex and often matrixed organizations, many leaders find themselves in a now all-too-common predicament: having accountability for an outcome with no authority over those responsible to help bring it to completion.

Figuring out which levers to pull to influence teammates that are not direct reports can be frustrating. In these situations, using emotional intelligence and relationship skills is more important than ever. Leaders in these positions have to take a “pull”, rather than a “push” approach to leadership, relying on evocative influence ability more than formal power. The following tactics can be helpful in getting results without formal power.

Create a Compelling Vision – When leading without formal power, it is all about leaning into an evocative, not provocative approach to influence. Essentially, inviting others to join you in your endeavor. One way to do this is by using a visioning influence style, one that relies on inspiration and not force to influence others’ behavior. In these times, being able to articulate your envisioned outcome, link it to your and the organization’s vales and noble purpose and clearly express why it’s important is key to getting their buy-in.

Build Strong Relationships – Another key means of tapping into your influence ability in an informal leadership situation is by strengthening your relationship with the people on your team. This doesn’t mean taking a transactional approach to relationships but instead tapping into your care and concern for others, inquiring about their lives and work reality and genuinely enjoying connecting with them. This is social capital 101. If you have strong relationships with people on your team they will be much more inclined to be cooperative and to get on board with your initiatives.

Create a Positive Environment – To the extent that it is within your control, do what you can to create a positive workplace and team climate. One of the leading psychologists in the positive psychology field, Barbara Frederickson, has developed the broaden-and-build theory based on her extensive research in the field. Her theory states that when individuals are in a positive mood, their range of perception opens up and they become more open-minded and able to see possibilities not available to them when they are in a neutral or negative state of emotion. The bottom line: when people are in a good mood, they are more likely to be open and amenable to your ideas

Find Like Minds – Finally, in challenging influence situations without formal power, it can be helpful to look to your right and left and see who supports the initiative you are leading. Aligned and helpful partners can help move things forward and get buy-in. The key is to do this with utmost care to not create divisions within the group.
 

Fredrickson, B. (2012). Positivity: groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. New York, NY: MJF Books.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., McKee A. (2013). Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.

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One Response to Leading Without Formal Authority

  1. Bonnie Shuman says:

    Bravo, Lindsey. This was very useful .

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