Influence without authority: How to be powerful irrespective of your role, position

In the current matrixed structure of organisations, everyone needs to step up and be a leader. Using one's innate power to influence without authority helps leaders form meaningful alliances and achieve collective best.

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Apr 16, 2021 07:02:22 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

A hot topic I often teach, talk, and conduct workshops around is 'Influencing Without Authority.' The current environment of matrixed organisational structures requires all people managers to develop this skill regardless of their position. As part of the research for my book, I delved deep into the subject. After all, unsavoury politicking often stems from feeling powerless and lacking influence. Various books have been written on being influential in the work environment. One of the critical underlying attributes for it is power; hence it becomes vital to understand your own interpretation of the power to be an effective leader.

What does 'Power' really mean? Power has many dimensions, forms, facets, and layers. It is a complex idea, but the key to unlocking every complexity hides as a simple truth underneath.

So how does one have power, or what makes a person powerful?

A person's role or position certainly provides some authority which automatically gives them power. Expertise and mastery in a subject empower as well, as in the case of an individual contributor or technical architect. There are a few other sources of power. You can learn to identify sources of different types of power through John French and Bertram Raven's work in their book The Bases of Social Power, first published in 1959.

I want to discuss a different type of power, something that is innate, something in your control, and not outside of you. This is the power that comes from your individuality. It makes you feel empowered irrespective of the person, situation, or circumstance. I define it as 'Distinctive Power.'

What is distinctive power?
Distinctive power is the innate power you hold because of who you are. It does not depend on your role, status, or position. It is indicative of the confidence with which you express yourself wholly by choosing to think and act without fear of judgment, failure, criticism, or rejection—in effect, embracing and accepting most aspects about yourself.

The general impression is that power is only reserved for the executive layer or a strong voice on stage, or celebrities with millions of social media followers. However, this distinctive personal power resides less in authority over others and more in your own belief of how powerful you feel inside. You don't necessarily have to be in a position of power to feel powerful.

Your distinct power comes from having clarity about who you are and where you are headed. It is an indicator of mental and emotional strength. It is the ability to take decisive and deliberate actions in any situation and be comfortable with not taking any action if that is what serves that situation best. People with this type of power carefully choose where and how they invest their energy. They are bright and aware of where and how to assert themselves without compromising their values.

The first step is to recognise and understand your power. What are those situations and circumstances when you feel powerful? Then, understand how you use or exert it when you give it away and when you claim it. Are there certain people around whom you don't feel this power? Do some incidents compel you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and claim your power?

Distinctive power is the most precious and exceptional power to have because it's unconditionally all yours. Even if you were stripped off of every material possession you own or success you enjoy, it does not go away. It comes from a deeply rooted belief in yourself, irrespective of any external factors defining you.

Another dimension of what distinctive power looks like is one's courage. Think of the many difficult decisions a CEO has to make, sometimes against better judgment and advice from those around them. What makes them take those tough calls day in and day out with such confidence? It is this courage that comes from a deep belief in themselves. Even in the face of common knowledge, understanding, and globally accepted norms, this belief in the decisions comes from a combination of the head, heart, and gut.

In my opinion, self-awareness is a fundamental skill to be a great leader. Another one of the secrets of distinctive power is the inherent capability to determine what is worth fighting for and what is not.

You can tell when someone is living their life from a place of distinctive power when they live intentionally with a purpose and optimism for life. Such people can manage their boundaries well. They know how to distinguish between the analytical and the critical voice in their heads. There is a gap between your thoughts, feelings, and actions. The ability to understand this and take action from a place of awareness gives you more power. Influential people are masters at manoeuvring the unhelpful self-sabotaging thoughts that often hinder progress. It requires a more in-depth inquiry into your patterns, habits, and beliefs that hold you back from the things you want.

You could vent and complain, fret and fume over these injustices, OR you can CHOOSE to invest your time and energy in improving yourself, so you are the boss next time. If you can find a place of balance where you don't compromise in ways you are uncomfortable with while not overly controlling and asking others to compromise with their comfort levels—that's powerful. When you operate from this perspective, you can build your internal strength and honour others' inner strength. This multiplies your efficacy. You form alliances with people that help you do your best. That is what real power looks like.

Another way to develop this personal power is through building confidence. Confidence is an often misunderstood term. It is not about being extroverted. You can be confident or not too confident on a spectrum and in multiple diverse areas of your life. For example, you may be confident in giving that presentation; however, not so optimistic about asking for a raise. You may feel very satisfied with finishing that project on time but not so confident about your company's future. The underlying secret of building confidence in anything is identifying the fear residing at the bottom of it, which prevents you from completely owning that thing.

It is not the person who is confident or not, but a task or aspect that one feels confident in. The more your power, the more significant is your influence, and the higher the possibility is to impact the lives of those around you.

This distinct personal power does not remain constant in life. Life may throw curveballs at you that test the most resilient of people. However, once you understand it, you can figure out ways to claim it when you find it weakening or waning.

The author is the founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners, a leadership development company based in Bengaluru

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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