Influence or Authority

Business Communications, Leadership

I had the pleasure of attending a leadership session recently put on by the CDC Foundation in collaborations with the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government that brought together leadership from government, public businesses, and nonprofit organizations to discuss better collaborative opportunities around preparedness.  The main focus of the session was a concept titled Meta-Leadership.  [You can find out a bit more at email me and we can discuss more] In short form, there are three core concepts:

1)      Going to and getting out of the “emotional basement” (natural fight/flight reaction) in critical situations

2)      Moving beyond the silo mentality to build connectivity across organizations and sectors

3)      Collaborating to solve problems effectively

One of the principles that I enjoyed discussing is the idea that people can be leaders either through influence or authority.  However, as most people who study leadership know, the best leaders are often the ones that are able to lead with influence rather than being a “mandated” leader by virtue of title or seniority.  One of the exercises we did as a team was thinking about both good and bad leaders we’ve had in our careers.  While everyone had a good chuckle sharing unidentified stories about the lousy leaders, it quickly became very apparent that real leadership can be fostered regardless of level.  It’s driven more by a shared connection and willingness to work with people instead of directing them.

Think about leaders that you’ve worked with.  What has worked for you and why?  And, just as importantly, what hasn’t worked?

2 thoughts on “Influence or Authority

  1. Glad that you enjoyed the summit. I work with the HSPH speaker (Lenny Marcus) and found your take-away particularly interesting because one of the foundational writers in modern leadership theory, James MacGregor Burns, rejects the concept of influence in his seminal book “Leadership.” (p. 19). However, as Burns goes on to describe his definition of leadership later on that same page, it seem clear that leadership is the very essence of what we understand today to be influence vs. authority: “inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and motivations–the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations–of both followers and leaders.” It’s not making you do something but rather creating the shared vision in service of which you are willing to do something.

    Good post.

    1. Thanks Eric,
      It’s such an important topic and one I believe that is really evolving as updated styles of communications and leadership are needed to fit with a new generation. Old assumptions and beliefs need to be studied and revisited to look at what should remain constant and what aspects need to be updated to fit as the world, and how we connect in it, changes.

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