3 secrets to creating influence without authority so you can get what you want without being pushy
It seems to be the number one challenge I'm hearing from audiences and clients: 'How do I influence when I don't have positional authority?'
It's clearly a frustration. Judging by the volatile sentiment, I imagine that organisations are plagued by tyrannical ego-maniacs who, once graced with the mantle of authority, are no longer interested in the spurious offerings of the underlings. Cue Game of Thrones shenanigans.
In working with many of these senior executives, I find few of them are truly ogres. This is what is at play for most:
The plague of busy and the curse of urgency has these executives strung out and strung up, pulled between competing priorities. They are literally at the end of their work tether, swung about by volatility.
That doesn't change the predicament of those who want to contribute, and find they are isolated from the hallowed halls of authority.
How to bridge this gap?
Here's what NOT to do:
Using rank - the one above the offending ogre's - to apply pressure. This is office politics and you will create enemies. You will make your boss look bad, and will make yourself look petty. This strategy is to be used only in dire circumstances when you feel there is a genuine threat to the business or team. You may already have tried to address it with your supervisor, or your supervisor may be in fact be the source of the problem.
Using charisma to entice. If you have charm, great! Trying to use it to influence will position you as a snake oil salesman, or a tart (regardless of gender). Charisma can open a door, but it should not hold the space on its own.
Using expertise to convince. This seems like the most sensible approach. The danger in asserting expertise is that you come off as being arrogant and blinkered. The mantra of, "do as I say because I know so" builds barriers not bridges.
Here's what to do instead:
1. Seek advice. In his book Give and Take that I often quote, Adam Grant asserts "Advice seeking is a surprisingly effective strategy for exercising influence when we lack authority. Advice seeking is a form of powerless communication that combines expressing vulnerability, asking questions, and talking tentatively...people love to be asked for advice. Giving advice makes takers feel important, and it makes givers feel helpful." Approach your boss, and ask for their input and opinion, instead of trying to push yours first.
2. Demonstrate value by the questions you ask. Stay abreast of trends. Follow futurists and reflect on what is happening in the big picture. When you are au fait with the bigger picture, and then ask insightful 'what if....' questions, it demonstrates you are thinking deeply. It also gives your boss a chance to consider the issues for themselves without being confronted directly.
3. Strengthen the web. Don't put all your influence eggs in one basket. Few leaders operate as a dictator, and if you can build rapport and alliances throughout the organisation, you will be less vulnerable and have stronger connections to sound for ideas, insight, and influence.
What are your influence strategies? What works? What has fallen flat?