Leaders cannot exert influence without proper authority

August 30, 2010
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I just read this quote: “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

What? Uh, not quite.

The quote should say, “One of the many keys to successful leadership today is influence.” It bugs me when someone attempts wisdom and it flies in the face of logic, emotion and especially reality.

If you think a leader can lead with no authority to lead, re-think that immediately. Imagine a person of great influence standing outside a major corporation but not having a job at the company, let alone a position of authority. Would anyone follow that guy? Would anyone even listen?

The “influencer with no authority” would probably get his biggest chance telling it to the judge after being hauled off by security.

Same in government. Can you imagine a person of influence trying to lead, manage or vote on an issue with no authority?

Reality: There is no “key” to successful leadership. Short quotes like that above are not only misinforming, they’re downright dangerous, unless you are already a leader and already have authority — the authority to influence.

Reality: There is no one key to leadership. You need a fat set of keys that includes both authority and influence. And anyone who tells you differently is trying to exert their influence, without an ounce of authority.

Here are the elements, totally based on authority, that give real leaders the ability to influence:

Respect. If respect for the leader is lost, the power of influence and authority is weak at the foundation. Leaders make the mistake of commanding respect when, in fact, respect is earned.

Clarity of message. If leaders are to be followed, it starts with clarity of message.

Positive attitude that sets an example. Attitude is the fundamental element that creates a path for all leaders to succeed, not just influence.

Ability to motivate. Creating the desire of the team to perform at top level. Real leaders create that drive for the person first, the mission second and the leader last.

Ability to inspire. The difference between motivation and inspiration is that motivation must constantly be injected. Inspiration lasts a lifetime. Great leaders can instill both.

Ability to strategize. Well-founded strategies are eagerly accepted by your team. They make sense and they seem doable.

Ability to plan, and plan B. After strategy is decided, plans (and alternate plans) are drawn to achieve the strategy. Plan B is also created to assure no loss of forward momentum in case there’s an unexpected shift or change.

Reputation. Not just a “great guy” or a “take charge” person, but rather someone “known” as a great leader and who has earned the respect of his people and his community.

Resilience. One of the least understood, and possibly the element that carries the most “success weight.” Resilience is a leader’s ability to take it and give it back, or bounce back from whatever situation arises. An influential leader with low or no resilience will not be in that position very long.

Past experience. A history of both success and failure that has provided the knowledge and wisdom to lead in the present. 

Persuasion. A higher form of influence. Persuasion occurs when trust and confidence meet belief, risk tolerance and safety.

Stature. Leaders must stand tall and be recognized for their posture, confidence and poise.

Character. The elements that build the profile. Character is possessed (or lost) by consistently “doing the right and the best thing.” Character plays a major role in a leader’s ability to influence. Great character is molded over time.

Image. Actions, results, and reputation combine to form image.

Ethics. This element of leadership determines reputation. Great leaders operate at and with the highest ethical standards.

By example. As a business entrepreneur for more than 40 years, I have always set the example by “doing” rather than “telling” or “demanding.” Don’t tell me what to do; show me how it’s done.

Tolerance of risk. Great leaders have a high risk tolerance and a sense to know when to take a calculated one.

Ability to get along with others. I believe that “likeability” plays a major role in a leader’s ability to create productivity and achievement.

Courage. The intestinal fortitude to withstand all adversity and the resilience to react, respond and recover on the way to accomplishment, achievement and victory.

Ability to achieve. Great leaders are not just respected; they’re also measured. They have the responsibility to achieve, and their effectiveness is measured against their charged tasks and goals.

Ability to withstand failure. A major part of resilience, failure must serve as a lesson and an opportunity to grow. Sure there is disappointment, sometimes anger — but leadership does not rest on a single event. All great leaders have encountered, endured and recovered from defeat — much wiser and more steadfast of purpose.

Ability to celebrate victory. Everyone wants to celebrate a victory. Real leaders know how to create genuine celebration and recognition of all those who participated. They also know how to temper it and use it as a springboard for the next task at hand.

Reputation. Everything discussed above creates and forms a leader’s reputation. Reputation creates the ability to attract and the desire for others to follow. And reputation often arrives on the scene way before the leader does.

Including authority and the ability to influence, I have just given you 25 vital characteristics of leadership and the ability to lead. No single characteristic holds the magic, but together they are the keys to become a dominant leader.

Free Git-Bit: If you want more leadership growth information, go to www.gitomer.com and enter the words GROW MANAGER in the GitBit box. Jeffrey Gitomer can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail salesman@gitomer.com.

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