When people, particularly those in large corporations, feel the need for authority it makes me wonder how confident they are.
My typical response when someone says they don’t have authority is to remind them that as a consultant/coach I never have any authority. Nor do I want it.
The reason I don’t want authority is that I know I’d be tempted to assert it instead of engaging the other person’s interest in achieving what I want to accomplish. You may be wondering why that’s important. The reasons are simple.
- Any time that I assert authority I invite resistance. Somewhere around age 2 we begin to assert our independence. As we age and gain experience our resentment of being told what to do grows stronger.
- When I create resistance for my ideas, I have to expend a great deal more time and energy to regain whatever ground I lost by asserting authority. I don’t mind doing things once; I hate doing them a second time.
- The resistance I create by asserting authority has a lingering effect. While I may recover the other person’s support in the situation in which I created the resistance, they’ll remember the ill feelings they felt during my previous assertions of authority.
- I run the risk of not being able to recover the person’s interest in what I’m trying to achieve.
- If I assert authority often enough, those around me will shut down their creative energies and await my instructions.
- Or they may follow my instructions to the letter knowing that my approach won’t work…and enjoy watching me fail.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not my idea of a fun way to live. So what’s the alternative?
Influencing others’ thinking to gain their help in accomplishing what you want is a much more effective approach. To understand why, let’s look at what it takes to gain influence:
- You have to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve.
- You need to know whose help you need to accomplish your goal.
- You must identify what achieving that goal will do for the person whose help you need.
- You need to frame your message in the context of why it’s in their best interests to achieve the goal, then acknowledge how it will help you and others as well.
You won’t get resistance from others when they see that you have their best interests at heart. Instead, you’ll gain not only their cooperation, but their desire to see you succeed as well.
As you were reading these words I’m confident that you experienced inspiration, joy and possibly even a smile. Contrast that with the feelings you felt when reading the “authority” section above. Remember, you get to choose which experience you have so choose wisely.
When you find yourself wishing you had greater authority, or feel the desire to use the authority you possess, pause a moment; then toss that thought aside and review the steps outlined above on how to gain influence. You’re not only more likely to achieve your goal, you and those who helped you will enjoy the collaborative nature of your joint success.
For our kids
Begin at an early age to teach your kids the difference between influence and authority. Help them develop the habit of employing the influence approach. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
Oh, by the way, don’t forget to live it yourself. They will follow your lead.