We’ve all been there. We’ve all sat around a conference room table eagerly hoping to get a nod of approval from our senior-most executives on something. It might be a simple, half-baked idea that’s still in the early concept phase. Or it could be a more fully baked strategy that sets the course for the next year. Point is, we’ve all had those moments in our career where we had to put everything on the line and “sell” people on our ideas. What’s more, we’ve had those times when we need others to lend us their support—both in time and resources. It’s in these moments where our ability to win over the hearts and minds of others hinges on how good we are at influencing without authority.
Defining influencing without authority
So, what does influencing without authority really mean? Well, there are a couple of different ways to think about it. On one hand, it might mean that you’re able to get those at the top of your organization to go along with your ideas, concepts or insights. It happens all the time in business. A mid-level leader takes charge of a project or initiative and, ultimately, sells senior leaders on the most viable solution. You may have heard this referred to as “buy-in.” Sometimes it’s skill, knowledge or even your charisma that can help you earn their respect and support.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on the more widely accepted definition of this concept. And that is having the ability to influence others in such a way that they want to follow you, as opposed to complying because you hold some sort of authoritative position. It’s important to note this applies to all leaders, especially those at the top. Great leaders should aim to have people go along with them because they want to, not because they feel like they have to.
Influencing without authority in change management
Never has the notion of influencing without authority been more important than in change management. As we’ve stated before, change is hard. And because it’s hard, people resist it. Therefore, if you want to successfully navigate a change, you must first accept that there will be resistance and then take steps to overcome it.
Start by asking yourself whether the problem to solve is clear to those around you. Do they understand the consequences if they don’t take the recommended action? Have you communicated the benefits of doing things the way you suggest? And what are you asking of them in return? In other words, what are you asking them to give up or change? And will it seem fair to them? How you approach these elements early on can positively or negatively impact your ability to get others “on the bus.”
It’s worth noting that each person will interpret things differently. We’ve all been in a meeting where six people hear the same thing but leave with varying opinions on next steps. This is all the more reason to make sure you’re succinctly telling your story, connecting the dots and being consistent in your messages. We often help clients at this stage, when they know the direction they need to go, but are unsure of the path to take to get there. We help leaders develop important internal key messages to ensure the change initiative gets off on the right foot.
Putting your influencing power to work
Winning over someone takes more than just logic and luck. It takes a lot of work. Below are seven skills you’ll want to master on your way to becoming a super influencer.
Trust us when we say it pays to get to know those around you. Building relationships with people enables you to earn their respect and, in time, their trust. And people tend to want to support those they like and trust. So, the next time Susan mentions something about her daughter, or Joe shares a funny story about this weekend’s pick-up game, take a minute to show genuine interest. Showing others that you care about them helps build a network of people who will be more apt to fight alongside you instead of against you. We promise this is worth its weight in gold!
One of the most important steps in building stronger relationships is being able to show empathy. This actually ties well with our previous comments about understanding resistance and how to minimize it. Understanding the feelings of others allows you to experience how they might view or react to change. This, in turn, gives you power beyond measure when it comes to influencing without authority. Why? Because it gives you a chance to tailor communications so they feel less threatening. Remember, too, that not everyone approaches situations with logic. Many people think and react with their heart or gut. So, sticking solely to logic can be a slippery slope. The key is to know your audience and adjust accordingly.
Listen, then speak
We could all use better listening skills, right? How many of us are willing to admit we sometimes formulate a response to what someone said before the person has even finished his or her thought. Yes, guilty! It’s really hard to stop and listen without jumping to some sort of conclusion or trying to justify what the person is saying. This is a skill we highly encourage people to work on every day.
But once you’ve heard the message, it’s equally important to stay on point and speak to that topic. For example, if someone raises a concern about money, speak to how your proposed solution will help the organization be more efficient and save money. Don’t stray and talk about how the change will make the manufacturing line safer. While safety is certainly a good thing, this message may miss the mark for someone who cares more about the financial impact.
Use your power wisely
When it comes to influencing without authority, we cannot stress enough the importance of understanding when and how to use your power. No one likes leaders who instill a sense of fear in others by throwing their weight around. Or worse, the weight of someone else they report to, like the CEO or another executive.
Have you ever been in a meeting where someone in middle management says “Well, the CEO said we have to do this…” and offered no additional insight or expertise to back up the directive? How did that feel? Have you been in a situation where your experience and knowledge was ignored and a decision was made by someone else simply because of his or her “rank?” We’re guessing it didn’t sit too well at the time. The moral of the story is: Don’t let your power go to your head. Instead build a coalition by being genuine, authentic and collaborative in your approach.
Your ability to tell stories will also help you in your journey to “win friends and influence people” to quote the famous Dale Carnegie. This is about connecting not just with people’s minds, but more importantly, their hearts. Storytelling tugs at the heartstrings. It allows people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and view the world through a different lens. It also makes it easier to share the benefits of a solution, rather than just rattling off a bunch of features.
So, when you’re trying to “sell” colleagues on an idea, consider ways to show them what the future could look like if they support the proposed solution. Depending on your audience, it might mean demonstrating how the solution will result in increased efficiency or throughput. Or enhanced cost savings or safety. Or a more streamlined workload for a better work/life balance. Whatever the story, make sure it connects to something that matters to the other person.
Want a real example? Hospitals across the country are quickly realizing the need for an integrated electronic medical record (EMR) system for their facilities. These EMRs seamlessly bring together a patient’s medical information into a digital chart that can be accessed by the patient’s healthcare team. Sounds great, right? What doctor wouldn’t want easy access to a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, immunizations and allergies? You’d be surprised to hear just how hard it can be to get some doctors and nurses on board. You can sell them all day long on the bells and whistles of the system. But it’s only when you consistently connect it to the thing that matters most to them that it finally clicks. How does it help them provide better patient care? That’s what they care about. So, tell this story. And then see what happens.
When you’re trying to influence someone, one of the greatest advantages you have is knowing your endgame and being able to think ahead. Anticipating concerns allows you to create appropriate arguments so you can proactively address any problems. Remember to tie everything back to a story. Facts and figures are nice, but stories are the sweet spot. And always be consistent in your messages.
Be persistent, practical and patient
Being a change agent requires a certain level of grit. Period. As management consultant Dr. Peter Fuda said at the 2017 Ultimate Culture Conference, “this work is not for everyone.” Indeed, not everyone is cut out to lead a transformation. But for those like us who can and do lead change, Dr. Fuda says we shouldn’t look for the one big thing, but instead the sum of a lot of small things. He stresses that transformation is not a matter of intention, but rather alignment. And we believe this alignment comes only with persistence, practicality and patience—and you often achieve it through the art of persuasion. Or as some might say influencing without authority.
Influencing without authority doesn’t have to be complicated. Yet it doesn’t necessarily come easy. It takes careful consideration and mindfulness to hone your ability to win over others and build a successful coalition. Have a story you want to share related to this topic? We’d love to hear from you! PS: Don’t miss the recap of some other great info we learned at this year’s Ultimate Culture Conference in Chicago.