Leading with or without authority: Is it time for a mindset shift?
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Leading with or without authority: Is it time for a mindset shift?

June 12, 2024

Leadership models and styles change and evolve over time. The traditional top-down or command-and -control leadership model, rooted in hierarchical industrial structures and military operations, may still be applicable in moments of crisis. However, in today’s dynamic and fast-paced work environment, this approach inhibits innovation, staff engagement and organizational flexibility, which are key factors for success in modern organizations.  

Nevertheless, in my coaching sessions, I see many early- to midcareer leaders still reaching for perhaps more familiar authority-driven management styles and wondering why they are not achieving desired results. They may strive to be seen as subject matter experts with authority to make decisions, or they may yearn for formal power to quickly move initiatives forward by telling others what to do.  

Rather than leading from an outdated position of “power over,” however, modern leaders have an opportunity to redefine leadership by creating a “power with” dynamic. 

Leading effectively is not about authority or wielding power; it is about inspiring others, building trust, fostering collaboration, and communicating and aligning with the core purpose of your organization and its priorities. You can become an effective leader regardless of your formal title or position.  

Here are three tips for leading without formal authority: 

1. Leading by inspiring action 

Effective leaders inspire and move others to action by tapping into the universal human need to be seen, to be valued and to be able to contribute in a meaningful way. They offer opportunities to co-create something that cannot be achieved by a single person, to connect action to a compelling shared purpose and to lead by example.  

Inspirational leaders encourage and lift others up, amplifying opportunities for others to apply their strengths. You can do this in any position by paying close attention to the people around you, showing genuine interest in their ideas and concerns, and discovering what motivates them and connecting that to the action you would like to initiate.  

2. Leading through collaboration 

Collaboration can be initiated at any level of an organization, and it is an effective way for emerging leaders to connect with colleagues who work in different roles or different areas of the organization.  

Trust, rooted in character and competence, is the foundation for successful collaboration. Character involves consistently acting in alignment with ethical principles and with the well-being of others in mind, while competence entails having the skills and knowledge necessary to fulfill your role and support others.  

Trustworthy informal leaders are transparent in their actions, communicate openly and prioritize the interests of the team, their peers and the organization above personal gain. They actively seek input from others, value diverse perspectives, and empower team members to contribute their ideas and expertise in a safe space. In environments where trust flourishes, collaboration thrives and teams are more resilient, adaptable and innovative because individuals feel safe to take risks and share their insights openly. By modeling and fostering a culture of trust and collaboration, you can unlock collective team and organizational potential and achieve remarkable results with others. 

3. Leading by aligning with organizational goals 

Align your ideas and objectives with organizational priorities to create synergies that drive collective success in areas where the organization already devotes attention and resources. By actively aligning your initiatives with broader organizational objectives, you can more easily garner support and buy-in from stakeholders at all levels.  

Embrace the opportunity to lead from where you stand and drive positive change with others through integrity and competence, and you will see your influence and impact expand. Whether you are a junior team member, a midlevel manager or even a seasoned executive, the ability to inspire, collaborate, and clearly communicate and align with organizational goals is crucial in today’s workplace.

If you are still unsure where to begin your journey of leveraging “power with,” consider working with a coach to unlock new approaches to leading.  

 Take a moment to visit the Partnership’s Leadership Coaching page to explore our standard coaching offerings and see the diverse backgrounds and experiences of our talented coaches, who are committed to supporting clients as they navigate complex leadership challenges. 

 For questions about leadership coaching, please contact us: coaching@ourpublicservice.org 

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