Leading Beyond Authority

by Julia Middleton

3. Who do you need to be?

More traditional leadership traits will not work as effectively when leading beyond authority, where the rules are different (and often changing) and where you cannot draw your confidence from your knowledge of a specialised topic, a professional qualification or years of experience and contacts.

Your personal brand

Working out who you are, what you stand for, and where you will and won’t compromise provides a strong base for leading change. Working with many diverse leaders, in new environments, and being able to adapt to changes and new rules means not only knowing yourself but also allowing others to relate to you and what you stand for. Knowing your own opinions, remaining independent and developing your brand will allow you to provide great direction and assert more influence with others. It will, however, be difficult, as you will be challenged by new people and situations, and by situations that are complex, with unclear solutions.

Sarah Ebanja, Deputy Chief Executive of the London Development Agency, is quoted as saying, ‘I don’t care about your values. What I want is for people to tell me about their standards. What will you accept? And what won’t you? When will you make a stand? On what issue?’


Self-belief provides a sense of direction and belief in the face of challenge. It differs here from confidence and this is an important area to explore. It is the sense that confidence can be applied to situations and sometimes is more about appearance. Leaders working in areas without direct authority need to be able to draw on their self-belief in order to sustain their efforts leading change over time.


Looking for credit for achievements or admiration for being the best in the game or being in it for yourself can set you back. Humility is about being involved in something for the sake of the change, or the issue, not for yourself. It is needed in order to be able to compromise, to be able to listen and be listened to. People make choices about whether they work with you or against you, and some may be less inclined to cooperate if the leader’s personal achievement is the end goal.

Why think about this?

People wanting to understand more about this may

  • Be concerned about operating in an area where their professional expertise doesn’t provide credibility
  • Be worried about being exposed, following a promotion to a higher level in a company
  • Want to overcome feedback that they appear over-confident
  • Be interested in how to develop more support for their work.