Leading Beyond Authority

by Julia Middleton

6. The sources of power

Our ability to effect change is greatly influenced by our recognition of different kinds of power, how we use it and where we get it from. When leading within our authority, we often draw a lot of our power from our position, our professional training or the expertise and experience we have gained in our career. Moving on to a leadership role in which our specialist knowledge and position may not count for much, we need to understand where our power and influence comes from and then find other sources of authority. Some of the sources of power are listed below. It’s not that power itself is different when you lead within or beyond your authority, but if you are leading beyond your authority, different sources of power work to different degrees.

  1. The power of position comes with the position you hold, that you were appointed or elected to, or that you have created for yourself. A leader is less likely to be able to call upon their position when leading change and will have less access to the resources and authority that comes with it.
  2. The power of personality comes from your strength of character, your ‘pizzazz’, the energy you generate around you because of who you are as a person.
  3. The power of ideas is acquired through the quality of your ideas and your creativity. Leading change requires leaders to deal with greater complexity and uncertainty. In doing so, much of their power will come from their ability to generate new ideas and to connect with diverse groups of people.
  4. The power to communicate is your ability to get across an idea or message in a way which resonates with people, both individually and in groups. For example, communication will become increasingly important when people are not obliged to work with or for you. The need to be able to communicate a clear direction, listen to many and varied people and to resonate with people will allow a leader to build greater support.
  5. The power to connect is the power you gain if you are able to see connections and overlaps and use your networks to bring all the pieces together.
  6. The power to invest; in other words, money talks: this power comes if you can invest resources or cash.
  7. The power to reward comes from your ability to reward people financially or through recognition. Part of this power is also the freedom to remove people from situations where they are not succeeding.

Most people have had to draw on different sources of power throughout their life: in family situations, on committees, organising social or charity events, or just when influencing friends. However, recognising different sources of power and using them more consciously can be quite a challenge.

Why think about this?

If you want to understand more about this, you may

  • Want to understand how you influence without a position of authority
  • Be interested in the concept of leadership not being related to a position
  • Be struggling to exert more influence across a large organisation and different departments
  • Be a member of a board and want to understand how you can increase your influence on its direction.