Leading Without Authority

Great teams win in the marketplace. Teams that fail to fulfill their potential, and fail to realise their missions and vision, do so because they are impeded by archaic, top-down command and control style systems of accountability, conflict avoidance, fractured relationships, and other behavioural blockers. At a time when change has never been more critical to the survival of organisations, and when less than 30% of change initiatives are successful, it’s time to try a new, more relational, approach.

With flatter management structures, increased outsourcing, the move toward all things agile, collaborative cultures, and the ongoing formation of cross-functional teams, leadership roles are changing. More and more people are assigned to leadership roles in which they have no “authority” per se. These people tend to have great positive influence, with the ability to move grand and important projects – and the people on these projects – forward in ways that those at far more senior levels cannot seem to do.

In today’s companies, we incorrectly assume that those in leadership roles are influential leaders. Many executives fail to authentically lead and exert authority without influence because of their position. Increasingly, individual contributors and junior managers are more adept at building relationships and engaging others around a vision beyond their immediate domain. Unfortunately, the leaders who fail to work well across functions are still rewarded, while forward-oriented junior employees find themselves stalling, simply because their title doesn’t grant them authority yet. This is a classic corporate political scene. It compounds frustration for aspiring leaders who want to impact positive change on their careers, organisations and industries. Worse still, it is a brick wall to an organsation becoming agile, competitive, and transformative in a rapidly changing environment.

“Your haters will resort to desk-politics, desk-jockeying and desk-envy as a result of your good behavior at work. It makes them look bad. Do good anyway.”
― Richie Norton

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars

When stuck in the quagmire of corporate politics, the complexities of human nature lead to various coping mechanisms. On some days, colleagues in different departments of the same company will navigate conflict well, and on others, they will resort to highly ineffective, damaging toxic behaviours. These behaviours can range from outright hostility to more seemingly “polite” passive-aggressive behaviours like avoidance and political manoeuvring. This is when a turf war begins.

Turf wars damage otherwise well-intentioned employees who have so much more to offer the broader enterprise but are left behind in their impact and career. Outdated ideas of how work gets done block them at every turn, such as don’t step on other people’s toes, keep your head down, and wait until your boss promotes you before taking the lead on new initiatives. Organisations that over-rely on people with authority to make decisions, while not including those who lack the title required to get involved, minimise their potential to be great. They create unnecessary frustration among their people who resist collaborating across silos, unless they are forced. This means they miss out on creating value together. 

“A business is not being competitive if it undertakes the same activities and grows

at the same pace as its competitors. It must create something new,

and this is why strategic intuition is needed.”

― Paul A. Sacco

Leadership Paradigm Shift

In Leading Without Authority, Keith Ferrazzi provides a blueprint to endure the frustrations of corporate politics, and to become a leader that drives better business results by transforming the way people work together. Based on more than a decade of consulting executive teams, Keith calls for a brand new operating system at work – one that reflects the need to transcend company politics for the betterment of the business and everyone involved. This concept is called “co-elevation,” where leadership is no longer positional (based on title). Rather, the leadership is based on a system of “fluid partnerships” and “self-organising teams.” This is the necessary and inevitable future of leadership and teams.

Co-elevation is a way of working where colleagues at all levels and within any department, co-create. In this way, they courageously hold each other accountable with coaching, rather than avoiding or competing with each other. One of the book’s toughest lessons (as hard as it may be to accept) is that when you find company conflict or intransigence hindering your impact, you may be the one to blame, not your colleagues. Regardless of your title or department, the team you need is built by influencing others, not blaming the team you have (or complaining that you don’t yet have direct reports). Those who do not proactively engage and inspire others to support their vision, or those who see themselves as a victim of their colleagues’ behaviours, ultimately limit their impact and results.

“By giving your time and expertise and sharing them freely, the pie gets bigger for everyone.”

— Keith Ferrazzi

3 Steps to Co-elevation

It is not necessary to delay your dreams in making a big impact on work until you have a leadership position. You can start leading your team or organisation currently, no matter what your position is in the company food chain. The first move to influencing without authority is specifying a problem. Then, you can be the person to move and find a solution. Co-elevation is all about taking responsibility in the workplace by not giving your power away through blaming others. Everyone can improve their team’s work, even if they’re not the official leader.

1. Identify Your Team.

Who are the most critical people to help you achieve your goals right now, whether or not they are currently aligned to your org chart? Those people are your team. Oftentimes these crucial relationships are defined by tension, competition, distrust, or dysfunction. This means our instinct is to blame the other person and walk away.

Pro Tip: A few times a week, invite anyone who is frustrating you to have a cup of coffee – or presumably whatever virtual equivalent is available these days.

2. Demonstrate That You Truly Care.

Before you begin to guide people around you, consider how you can fulfill their needs. By demonstrating to your peers, customers, or investors how much you give importance to their wellbeing, you gain their confidence to guide – even though you are not in a powerful position. Givers are the people who make others feel valuable. After talking with these people, we feel inspired and uplifted. Their bounty and attention infuse reliability and devotion in everyone they encounter. The age of radical interdependence requires us to engage in these kinds of deeper, richer collaborations with people we often have no control over. In this way, we fulfill our mission and move the organisation forward. At the end of the day, you need to own the decision whether you want to have successful relationships with your coworkers, bosses, clients, or partners. The bottom line is that to lead effectively, your teammates must feel that you care about them.

Pro Tip: Make sure that you know the three or four life events that have shaped who your close colleagues are today. Bring at least five ideas to a meeting with someone that you think might be useful to them.

3. Reasons to Celebrate

When individuals feel good about their lives and themselves, they immediately become more efficient and better at finding solutions. There is an example in the book of a CEO who did not call his workers to tell them what to do or explain the wrong parts of their work. Rather, he phoned them to tell them they had done an excellent job. The leader was conscious of the strength of his positivity and perceived it as his role to stimulate the people working for him to give their best. He thought the easiest way to get the best out of people was to tell them when they had delivered it, complimenting their successes, even when they were little things. Interestingly, when he could not find something commendable for an employee, he would browse social media and find something that they had recently accomplished in their individual lives so he could celebrate with them.

Pro Tip: Celebrate small wins – they build confidence that leads to great things.

The old model of the heroic leader taking command was never very realistic, and now it’s obsolete. The team must serve the team, and the leader’s role is to facilitate that co-elevation. As Leading Without Authority reminds us, Today’s organisations cannot survive unless they shift the way they incentivise and support collaborative effort, rather than hierarchical decision-making. Leaders can no longer excel in their careers if they only pay attention to the team they lead on the company organisational chart.

“You telling everyone what to do does not make you the boss.

You doing everything you told yourself to do makes you the boss.”

― Terry Crews

10 Ways to Lead When You Are Not the Boss

Your boss asks you to take the lead on a project and suddenly you are responsible for the work of colleagues who are peers, perhaps even superiors – people over whom you have no authority. Leading without authority can be tricky to do without your coworkers feeling like you’re overstepping boundaries. Here are 10 ways to lead a team regardless of your title or seniority.

1. On the same page

It’s best to assume nothing about what is expected or even what the group has been asked to deliver. The team’s first meeting must be a conversation about the group’s purpose, potential impact and ultimate goals. Having everyone participate in that discussion creates a vision that the entire team will own. By inviting colleagues to help define the purpose and goals, you get buy-in on how to define success and how the group will get there.

2. Transparency is Key

Don’t be a dick and try to convince someone that you have skills that you don’t have. Identifying a colleague as an expert and asking them to share their knowledge does not undermine your authority. It shows confidence and encourages collaboration.

3. The Power of Choice

Rather than assigning roles, ask team members what they want to work on. In most cases, colleagues will gravitate to the task that best fits their skills. In this way, they’ll be more invested in completing their assignments. If there is a particularly undesirable task that no one wants to take on, pair it with something more desirable and ask a colleague to take on both. If the task can be divided among members, such as taking notes during meetings, ask if everyone can take a turn. As the leader, it may fall on you to pick up the slack on tasks no one else wants to do.

4. Clear and Specific

Streamline meetings by researching best practices for achieving your goal ahead of time. Bring that information to the group and invite others to add their own suggestions. This demonstrates leadership and saves time by providing team members with something specific to react to. People are always more inclined to answer when they are asked a specific question.

5. Body Language

Nothing gives away your true intentions and emotions like body language. As the group’s leader, it’s up to you to set the tone and demonstrate a positive environment that welcomes everyone’s ideas and input. That means not rolling your eyes, crossing your arms or fidgeting when a colleague makes an unpopular suggestion. Thank them for their contribution and move on.

6. Voice the Differences

People are different. Not everyone will agree all the time. As a leader, you need to hear out those differences and possibly make a tough decision about how to move forward. If it’s particularly sticky, you may choose to schedule a separate meeting with the disagreeing parties, so you can hear them out without taking up the group’s time. What is important is that you are transparent about it. The next time the group meets, provide an update on what happened, including the process you took and where to go to from here to accomplish the goal. The team will want to know the issue was resolved based on the group’s shared goal, not your personal preferences.

7. Be Truthful, but Tactful

The team won’t deliver a great outcome if members aren’t given an honest assessment of their work. If someone’s work doesn’t meet expectations tell them in a truthful, yet tactful way. Point out where they are on the right track and then tell them what they need to rework and why. Rather than just critiquing their work and saddling them a new deadline, offer to help by asking if they need additional resources or more time to complete the project.

8. Take Ownership of Mistakes

Regardless of whether you are to blame, take ownership for the group’s mistakes. Not only will it build trust, it also takes the power to blame you away from others.

9. Ask for Feedback

Leading a project is a huge opportunity for you to learn from others, particularly the senior colleagues on your team. Ask all team members to offer feedback on how the project went as well as your leadership style.

10. Ask for Help

If you find yourself in a difficult position where the group is at an impasse and can’t move forward, you may have to ask senior leadership for help re-imaging the project or reassigning the team. This will save you more time than simply trying to push through and continuing to knock heads. Organisational pressures to get something done quickly can lead to a mismatched team. As the group’s leader, it’s up to you to let management know when that happens. After your project is complete, evaluate how it went – who was helpful, who works together well, who contributed the most without being asked and how successful you were at motivating the team. This will help to determine who should work together on the next project and it may even lead to a promotion, especially if you can show that your leadership skills helped the team to succeed.

“If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain, do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?”
― Warren Ellis

Individual Identity vs System Identity

When parts combine to form a whole, the whole then takes on an identity of its own. This identity is based on its reason for being; the individual players’ personalities and relationships; the knowledge, beliefs, values and assumptions of the whole; and the established ‘rules of engagement’ that emerge. The systems (within systems) that we interact in, in essence, have a life of their own. In order to influence change in an existing system, there are some principles to apply that can help us to be more effective. If you are trying to influence change in a system, these three principles will go a long way in easing your frustration and helping to make you more effective in doing so.

Newsflash! It’s Not About You.

When you are promoted or brought into an existing organisation to influence change or innovate, you often see yourself as the “saviour” who knows how to shake things up and make a difference. You enter the room (cue drumroll) scan your environment and uncover problems to solve. You receive validation and accolades when you are able to implement your new ideas and strategies. When your own identity is wrapped a superhero’s tights and cape, the emphasis is on you and your super abilities. Only, it’s not about you. It never was about you and it never will be about you.

When you separate yourself from that ego-based, me-me-me-it’s-all-about-me focus, and instead see yourself, your words and actions as models of the behaviours you are looking to influence, the emphasis changes. You are no longer the all-knowing saviour with a need to be validated by success. You are now a role model to be aspired to for the desired change you are trying to influence. This is the principle of using yourself as an instrument of change.

Eagle-Eye View

We all see the things, people, and situations around us through different lenses. Much of what we see, depends on our vantage point, the information we have, our assumptions, values and beliefs. In this way perspectives of any given situation may vary wildly, depending on our lens of choice.

Being able to separate yourself from your own lens and see the entire landscape through the lenses others have is essential when you are influencing change. The higher you are, the better the view. Soaring like an eagle above the entire system is one way to separate yourself from the immediate storyline you are participating in. From this higher vantage point, you can observe the emotions and differing perspectives, including your own, as if you were an outsider watching the story play out. From this system’s lens, it is easier to discern which actions are needed to influence change. This is the principle of looking through a systems lens.

Ability to Respond (Responsibility)

Whether we are aware of it or not, much of our behaviour is reactive. We react to people’s expectations of us and respond on auto-pilot to please others, protect ourselves, and try manipulate and control situations. Our behaviours are unconscious, knee-jerk reactions, rather than consciously chosen responses to create a desired result.

Taking full responsibility by consciously setting clear intentions, and choosing the behaviours that will produce the outcomes we intend, requires conscious thought, self-management and focus. Asking yourself, “What is needed here for the highest good of ALL concerned?” and choosing your response consciously will garner much more influence than allowing yourself to react and take things personally. This is the principle of conscious use of self.

“The future rewards the humility of “learn it all”s and punishes the hubris of “know it all”s.”
― Maulik Parekh

3 Essential Skills to Succeed in Business

In contrast to command-and-control style leaders of the past, today’s most effective leaders are exercising a different kind of power. This new style of leadership is a blending of personal and interpersonal skills that form the basis of a leader’s ability to impact, influence, and inspire others. Now more than ever, in our new paradigm of hybrid work and collaboration, we need new ways to foster high levels of contribution and engagement. And we need to understand how to bring out the best in all individual contributors and team members.

1. Empathetic Listening

DDI has just completed the largest leadership study of its kind. 15,000 leaders from more than 300 organisations, across 20 industries in 18 countries made up the Global Leadership Forecast 2021. They found that the conversational skill that had the highest impact on overall performance was empathy – specifically, the ability to listen and respond empathetically.

Real communication occurs when we listen with understanding. In this way, we see the idea and attitude from the other person’s point of view, sense how it feels to them, and attempt to achieve their frame of reference in regard to the thing they are talking about. A further discovery in the DDI report was that, globally, only four out of ten leaders are proficient or strong in empathy. And the rate may be even lower in the newest generation of leaders. A study by the University of Michigan found that the empathy levels of college students have been declining over the past 30 years – with an especially steep drop in the past ten years. As a leader, if you already rank high in empathy, you gain a genuine professional advantage. If not, empathetic listening is a skill worth developing.

2. Warm Body Language

There are two sets of body language cues that people look for in leaders. One set projects warmth and caring and the other signals power and status. Both are necessary for leaders today and both will be critical to the success of leaders in the future. In your role as Chief Influencer, the “warmer side” of nonverbal communication (which has been undervalued and underutilised by leaders more concerned with projecting strength, status, command and control authority), becomes central to creating the most productive workforce relationships. The body language of inclusion and warmth displays positive eye contact, genuine smiles, and open postures in which legs are uncrossed, and arms are held away from your body, with palms exposed or resting comfortably on the desk or conference table. 

Mirroring is another nonverbal sign of warmth. You may not realise it, but when you are dealing with people you like or agree with, you’ll automatically begin to match their stance, arm positions and facial expressions. It’s a way of signaling that you are connected and engaged. Facing people directly when they’re talking is also crucial. It shows that you are totally focused on them. Even rotating your shoulders a quarter turn away signals a lack of interest and makes the other person feel as if their opinions are being discounted. Of course, giving others your complete attention when they are speaking is one of the warmest, most inclusive signals you can send.

3. High Vibe Emotions

A business simulation experiment at Yale University gave two groups of people the task of deciding how much of a bonus to allocate each employee. Certain employees were to receive as large a bonus as possible, while still being fair to the entire population. In one group, the conflicting agendas led to stress and tension, while in the second group, everyone ended up feeling good about the result. The only difference was in the “plants” – actors who had been secretly assigned to each group. In the first group, the actor was negative and downbeat. In the second, the actor was positive and upbeat. The emotional tone of the meetings followed the lead of each actor. Not one of the group members understood why their feelings had shifted.

Positive and negative emotions are highly infectious, and instantaneously “catching” them is a universal human phenomenon. In a study at the University of Tubingen in Germany, people were shown photos of happy or sad faces on a computer then asked questions to gauge their emotional reactions. Subjects reported corresponding emotions to the photos – even when the pictures lasted only fractions of a second. In business, the power of emotion is often discounted. We tend to believe that people think logically and act rationally. Steeped in this belief, leaders quantify everything they can in order to present information in ways that will help team members make objective decisions.

According to neurologist Antonio Damasio, the centre of our conscious thought (the prefrontal cortex) is so tightly connected to the emotion-generating amygdala, that no one makes decisions based on pure logic. Damasio’s research makes it clear that logical reasoning is usually no more than a way to justify emotional choices. Think of it this way: We are all part of an emotional chain-reaction. As a leader without authority, you can influence and inspire your team by understanding that emotions drive performance. Worry, stress, and fear decrease physical and mental energy as well as impair mental agility. Positive emotions – optimism, enthusiasm, gratitude – increase energy, learning and motivation.

Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
— Alan Alda

System Upgrade

In reaction to rising global consciousness and changing realities, many business schools are revisiting their offerings to see if they still have relevance in the 21st century. Harvard Business School, the blue-chip brand of all MBA programs, used 2008 (its centennial year) to convene worldwide experts on business education and plot its directions for the next 100 years. The result: Deans and recruiters said that MBAs in general needed better communication skills, increased self-awareness and an enhanced capacity for introspection and empathy. It’s no longer enough to simply have the job title. If you are clinging to the crumbling hierarchical structures, unwilling to go through a process of self-discovery, we have news for you:  you are nothing but a talking suit and your days are numbered.

Humanity is designed to grow, develop and expand into our greatest potential. Today, the increasing speed of change, the risk of technical disruption, geopolitical uncertainty, and the overall growing complexity in the world is exhilarating. The volume of information, the maze of communication methods and the evolution of organisations can feel overwhelming. We are simply not keeping up with the pace of change. We cannot fix this growing external complexity, so our only recourse is to increase our own by achieving higher states of consciousness.

“Be what you are. Do what you love. Speak what you feel. Don’t hide
your humanity. Celebrate it. Embrace it.
That is how you change the world.”
― Vironika Tugaleva

Changing the World

We can only change the world person by person, leader by leader, company by company, and country by country. In this way, we can solve the unsolvable problems together. We can unite and integrate the polarities. We can create tribes and communities that espouse empathy and compassion. We are each the leader, and we can learn to lead with love over fear. It is time to experience true happiness, joy, and personal fulfillment in life by looking in the direction of your passion and purpose. Your life will be more meaningful, rewarding, impactful, and fulfilling. You will be proud to be alive, knowing that your energies are being applied in the right direction, for the greater good.

“It’s not the depth of your intellect that will comfort you or transform your world. Only the richness of your heart and your generosity of spirit can do that”
― Rasheed Ogunlaru

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