Leading Beyond Authority

by Julia Middleton

2. Adapting to a new environment

Leading beyond authority is going to be a challenge and it is going to be new to you. The way change happens and is led will feel different to the world you are used to. How different?

Adapting quickly

To be able to lead in a new world will mean understanding things you have taken for granted all over again, this time in a wider environment. To gain credibility, you will need to understand the new context, the issues, the sources of power and the pitfalls. To be able to do this will require moving into new environments more frequently, looking at how things work and not assuming they will follow the same old rules.

Asking the right questions

The ability to ask the right questions comes to the forefront, as it becomes a more valuable asset than knowing the right answers. A leader becomes known for the speed with which they can come to terms with the new rules and start relating to the situation, not the speed with which they can impose a pre-made solution.

Building credibility in a new environment is described by Lord Puttnam, President of UNICEF and advisor to the Department of Education:

As an advisor, I visited more schools than anyone else. I remember hearing an interview with Paula Radcliffe, the long distance runner. She said there were all kinds of clever training techniques but that, in the end, the fundamental issue was how many miles a week you do.

Why think about this?

If you want to understand more about this you may

  • Be wondering how to cope with challenges to your legitimacy or how you can acclimatise to this new world
  • Be considering whether to take a stand on an issue and what it will it feel like if you do
  • Be operating in a new and different environment, which feels lonely
  • Be a newly promoted leader and be finding it difficult or different to operate at this level
  • Have taken on the chairing of a cross-departmental group
  • Have joined a board (exec or non-exec) and have a broader range of responsibilities
  • Be struggling to understand whether leading beyond your authority is really very different to what you currently do.