What is leading beyond authority?

People who lead beyond their authority can produce change beyond their direct circle of control. Traditionally, many leaders learn to lead by rising through their organisations and earning the authority to lead. But the world is changing and leaders must change with it. As organisations develop increasingly complex internal structures and external relationships – working across cultures, borders and boundaries – the leader’s ability to lead both across and beyond their organisation becomes ever more important.

So how do leaders learn to lead when they have succeeded within their own world, yet find themselves surrounded by a host of new and unfamiliar faces, audiences and challenges? What happens when they do not feel they have the legitimacy to lead anything or anyone beyond the authority they believe has been prescribed for them?

This situation requires a different kind of leadership, with a different set of perceptions, skills and talents. And it demands further leadership development, one that encourages broader vision and the ability to operate across diverse worlds, right from the outset.

Very soon, the ability to lead a network will become as important as the ability to lead an organisation. We must develop leaders who can lead beyond their authority just as effectively as they can within it. These will be leaders who can effect change – even when they can’t instruct or inspire trust in familiar ways. These leaders must be able to sustain broader perspectives and be confident about making connections between quite different groups of people and reconciling different worlds.

Leading beyond authority is the ability to lead outside your direct circle of control to make change happen – personally, across your organisation, or in the wider civil society.

All of us find leaving our comfort zones hard: we see it almost as leaving the Earth’s atmosphere. Perhaps we all need reminding that a move to another sector or subject won’t be utterly unrecognisable. Like English campers who pack their tinned food to travel abroad, we need persuading that there is running water out there, yes, and maybe even a Starbucks! Maybe part of leadership development is to get people to do ‘foreign travel’ at an early age – before they become too rigid – to give them the confidence that they can create new comfort zones.

Moira Wallace, Director General
Crime, Policing & Counter Terrorism, Home Office