Leading with Influence over Authority

by | Nov 23, 2022 | Professional Growth

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”

– Ken Blanchard

When I was a new supervisor, I asked my manager “how much authority do I have?” I was thrilled to finally have responsibility for other people, and company resources, and was anxious to use my role and power to drive results.

I had a business card, a bigger desk, and a small degree of authority. What I did not have was an understanding of power, boss, and control. I had plenty of titles, little respect, and marginal influence.

My organization offered me very limited authority initially, which proved to be a good decision. I was not ready for prime time, needing to better manage myself before I led others.

This was a confusing time as I had been promoted yet did not really feel I was moving up. My authority was described in my job description, yet I was closely supervised and struggling with how to act with the people I was now responsible for. I decided to not assert my authority, and to learn from colleagues and mentors how to be an effective leader.

The message I heard was to lead with influence and use authority only when you have no other options. This sounded great but I needed to better understand how these terms differ.


  • Authority is the legitimate power that a person or group is granted to practice over others within an organization.
  • Since it is based on power, it breeds compliance and is often resisted.
  • Authority is getting others to work because you tell them to perform for you.
  • They follow you because they must.


  • A leadership behavior, an ability to inspire others beyond compliance to greatness.
  • While authority is based on power, influence is an ability.
  • Influence is getting others to work because they want to perform for you.
  • They follow you because they want to.

People don’t want to be forced into doing something — as consumers or employees. When buying a car, we are turned off by a hard sell. The same principle applies at work. We want to be inspired, influenced to act.

“Just Do It™” may work for Nike but it does not work for leading people.

I often hear leaders lament their people are not accountable to get their work done. They tell me employee work ethic isn’t what it used to be. We hear about the great resignation, and the challenge to retain employees. These are challenging times, yet the remedy is timeless — the importance of an effective leader and positive work relationships.

In all our relationships, we expect:

  • To be valued
  • To be engaged in the conversation and decision

When these needs are not met in the workplace, we see decline in trust and performance. On the other hand, relationships built on influence, trust and credibility stand the test of time — particularly when times get tough.

The three “Cs” to becoming an influential leader:


Projecting patience and emotional stability.


Demonstrating a relaxed confidence centered on humility and a positive mindset.


Mastering your craft where your words can be depended on.

Telling people what to do, relying on your title to move people, does not work today. Our people expect and deserve a seat at the table, and influence is the style to bring out their personal best. Your authority has a shelf life — your influence lives on forever.

Leading Your Team

Here’s a helpful article on encouraging your people to assess their own performance.

How To Talk To An Employee Who is not Meeting their Goals

Read to Lead

Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience — old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e-readers.

Our Missing Hearts
by Celeste Ng
The latest novel from one of my favorite authors. The story highlights the injustices that remain in our society, featuring a twelve-year-old boy searching for his mother. A reminder of the impact our biases have today, and through generations.

Designing Your Work Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
The latest from the authors who introduced the concept of design thinking into career planning. Their focus is helping readers discard dysfunctional beliefs and reframing their workplace mindset. An encouraging book for lifelong learners.