Leading Beyond Authority

by Julia Middleton

1. What should you leave behind?

Leading change may require a willingness to adapt, listen and understand someone else’s truth rather than proving your point through intellectual rigour. It will need skill in guiding coalitions and an ability to express your passion for change.

Points to consider

To be able to do this, leaders will need to increase their awareness of beliefs and behaviours that will be less useful when leading beyond authority.

Giving instructions

Many partners in professional firms are used to balancing consultation with direction and have learnt that you cannot simply tell people what to do. Many young managers struggle to come to terms with the fact that even though they are the boss, staff do not always do what they are told. Leaders need to realise that change will not happen simply because you tell people what you want.

Intellectual rigour

With many and varied people and organisations involved that are not under the direct control of the leader, there will be more questions, challenges and ambiguity. It is important to realise that a well-presented, logical, intellectual case for change, based on professional knowledge, will not (on its own) achieve the end result.

Strict hierarchies

It is important to realise that the power to change will not come through the hierarchy. This applies whether you are an emerging leader, building your career in a large company, or someone who wants to be able to lead change in a new environment. The power to lead change comes through networks, and the ability to work across boundaries, not just within them.

The instinct to tidy

The ability to organise and keep things tidy will remain important but cannot rule your activity. The number of people involved and the scope and complexity of the issues with which you are dealing will stretch you. You are likely to find that you cannot maintain the same level of tidiness and organisation and must find ways of working with this, of both coping and leading in this more chaotic situation.

Why think about this?

People wanting to understand more about this may

  • Be wondering how to identify potential staff who will be able to lead beyond their authority
  • Be frustrated at the people and organisations they are working with (beyond authority) as they don’t seem willing to be organised or to read the written material produced
  • Be stressed by the lack of control they have over the situation and possible outcomes
  • Be considering a new promotion or board appointment and wondering how best to prepare
  • Want some insight when reflecting back on a recent project they have led, to see where they could improve.