Leadership Beyond Authority

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We all know about leadership. You take on a task, with a budget and a team. You’re the one in authority; you’re in charge. You set the objectives and have a timescale. And then it’s your job to pull it all together, to motivate the people who work for you and to get on with delivering it.

On the whole, most leadership development tells us how to perform well in this situation. Increasingly, however, this is not the only sort of leadership we are being called to deliver. Often, you’re not in charge; in fact, no one is. There is no budget. And there are no people who have to work for you.

Executives have to produce change within their organisations, but across functions they don’t control. Policemen have to work alongside health and housing professionals. Politicians have to draw communities together to plan for the future. Directors have to work with partners outside their business. Non-executives have to influence decisions that are not theirs to make.

Leadership is the incremental influence that a person has beyond his or her formal authority.

Across every sector, this is happening more and more. Boundaries are blurring. Authority is becoming less clear-cut. Partnership is proliferating. The traditional leadership tools work – but nothing like as well, or as often, as they used to. Increasingly, you need to supplement them with others. You need to lead beyond your formal realm of authority.

What does it mean to lead beyond authority?

People who lead beyond their authority are more skilled than others in several aspects of leadership.

They see the wider context and their role in it:

  • Expecting complexity and producing clarity
  • Anticipating inter-connectivity and finding common ground
  • Developing diverse networks which help them see angles and opportunities
  • Spotting talent in all worlds, not just their own.

They adapt fast in new surroundings:

  • Stepping forward rather than backwards when faced with the unfamiliar
  • Being open to challenge, listening hard and asking questions
  • Coping with confrontation, resisting judging too quickly and avoiding the assumption that theirs is the only way
  • Inspiring trust among people who are very different from them
  • Learning to speak other people’s languages, not just their own.

They produce change wherever they are:

  • Understanding how power works in different worlds by finding out where real power is and spotting relationships between players
  • Influencing others in different worlds and taking things forward without simply seeking consensus
  • Drawing out the creativity and innovation that diverse teams offer
  • Inspiring in all worlds, not just their own.

Let’s face it, many leaders don’t like it when they are not the boss. They have worked hard to get where they are, and they want to enjoy it. But, for me, one of the key roles of a leader is to push the boundaries out. Leaders have to make people feel uncomfortable. To do this, you have to feel uncomfortable yourself.

Want to empower yourself to learn the skills to lead beyond?

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