I just read this quote: “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” What? Eh, not quite.
It sounds good when you first hear it, but it’s not only completely without merit, it’s also downright dangerous.
The quote should say, “One of the many keys to successful leadership today is influence.” It bugs me when someone attempts wisdom, and it flies in the face of logic, emotion and especially reality.
If you think a leader can lead with no authority to lead, re-think that immediately. Imagine a person of great influence standing outside a major corporation, but not having a job at the company, let alone a position of authority. Would anyone take action? Would anyone follow that guy? Would anyone even listen?
The “influencer with no authority” would probably get his biggest chance telling it to the judge after being hauled off by security.
Same in government. Can you imagine a person of influence trying to lead, manage or vote on an issue with no authority? Not gonna ever happen.
Reality: There is no “key” to successful leadership. Short quotes like that are not only misinforming, they’re downright dangerous, unless you are already a leader and already have authority – the authority to influence.
Reality: There is no one key to leadership. You need a fat set of keys that includes both authority and influence. And anyone who tells you differently is trying to exert their influence, without an ounce of authority.
Here are the elements, totally based on authority, that give real leaders the ability to influence:
• Respect. If respect for the leader is lost, the power of influence and authority are weak at the foundation of any mission. Leaders make the mistake of commanding respect when, in fact, respect is earned.
• Clarity of message. If leaders are to be followed, it starts with clarity of message.
• Positive attitude that sets an example for others to adopt. Attitude is the fundamental element that creates a path for all leaders to succeed, not just influence.
• Ability to motivate. Creating the desire of the team to perform at top level. Real leaders create that drive for the person first, the mission second and the leader last.
• Ability to inspire. The difference between motivation and inspiration is that motivation must constantly be injected. Inspiration lasts a lifetime. Great leaders can instill both.
• Ability to strategize. Well-founded strategies are eagerly accepted by your team. They make sense and they seem doable.
• Ability to plan, and plan B. After strategy is decided, plans (and alternate plans) are drawn to achieve the strategy. Plan B is also created to assure no loss of forward momentum in case there’s an unexpected shift or change.
• Reputation. Not just a “great guy” or a “take charge” person, rather someone known as a great leader and has earned the respect of people and the community.
• Resilience. One of the least understood and possibly the element that carries the most “success weight” is resilience – a leader's ability to take it and give it back, or bounce back from whatever situation arises. An influential leader with low or no resilience will not be in that position very long.