Influence Over Authority

Influence Over Authority

I hope this series on leadership lexicon is proving valuable to you. The more we can agree on the meaning of the words we use, the greater the likelihood that we will communicate more effectively. See earlier posts on Relationships, Responsibility, Small Talk, Networking, as well as being Transparent, Approachable, and Socially Adept. Today I want to address the importance of a leader’s ability to use their influence rather than the power that accompanies their authority. In Sustained Leadership WBS I define it in this way:

WBS Dictionary: Influence is the persuasive power of a leader to cause people (who have options to choose who they follow) to follow this particular leader. Sustained leaders understand power ( in all its many forms. To some, power is simply brute force. Authority is power granted by another over certain areas of conduct. Things can be accomplished through the use of authority, power, force, or influence. This element makes a clear distinction that the strongest and most lasting form of power is influence. With authority (or compulsion) people follow direction because the authority has the ability to mete out reward and punishment. Brute force works in some environs (consider maximum security prisons), but the greatest form of power is influence. With influence, people follow the leader because they choose to. They have options. They can leave and go elsewhere, but they choose to follow this leader. The sustained leader also knows that often people must be persuaded. With no influence, there is little possibility that any efforts of persuasion will be successful.

The Nature of Power

Power is a curious thing. It comes in many forms and strengths, and is used by people differently. Yet power is neither good nor bad. Like money, power simply “is.” The determination of good versus evil is how you use it, and people often disagree on whether certain uses of power are, in fact, good or bad.

Positional Power

When people are put into leadership positions they obtain what is called (logically) positional power. They have no intrinsic power and their primary forms of enforcement are the classic carrot and stick. This is the weakest form of power. These people are not leaders, necessarily. They are better referred to as “bosses.” As Geoff and Jones have noted, employees do not get to decide who the bosses are, but they will decide who the leaders are.

The sustained leader does not rely on positional power. The greatest power a sustained leader has is their character. Review the elements of character as presented in Sustained Leadership WBS. If someone is loyal, honest, maintains high moral values, has a spiritual anchor, is approachable, responsible, and transparent, is a constant learner, always demonstrates humility, and is what many might call a serious thinker, you are very like to want to follow this person.

The Power of Character

The power they hold is that they embody much to which you may aspire. People choose to follow people like this not because they have been assigned to them, such as in a corporate structure, but because they choose to follow THIS leader who demonstrates such strong character. Aristotle, as we have mentioned previously, saw that persuasive power rested with a person’s ethics, words, and passions. Perhaps you would agree that a person who maintains high ethical standards, holds themselves accountable, is able to communicate to a variety of audiences with clarity, and is energetic and enthusiastic about the vision and mission of the team is someone you can “Get behind”.


Such people carry a great deal of influence over the team, and it is never out of fear, unless it is the fear of disappointing someone you hold in such high regard. Sadly, there are too few people in leadership positions today who embody these traits of the sustained leader. The organizations are not well led, and the ones who should be learning at the knee of a sustained leader are cheated out of the opportunity and experience. This common situation firmly shows why it is so important that any organization develop leaders at all levels within it. Foremost, an organization with perpetual existence always needs to be building its bench strength. Leaders need to be developed properly and given graduated areas of responsibility to hone their leadership acumen.


When a “boss” sneaks through the system, the leaders below them organizationally will preserve the organization. It becomes the responsibility of the sustained leaders further up the organizational chain to promptly remove the bosses and replace them with leaders.

With strong communication among the sustained leaders who have high character and a strong desire to deal with the facts, these adjustments should occur fairly quickly. When a boss becomes entrenched in a leadership position (remember that does NOT make them a leader!) it reflects a lack of sustained leadership elsewhere in the organization. The aspiring sustained leader should look elsewhere for better leadership opportunities.

Using Power as a Sustained Leader

Watch how people wield the power they have. Threats, intimidation, and coercion are not the tools of a sustained leader. Be the leader that others will gladly choose to follow. Increase your influence and its associated power by being a person of high character.

This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section Uses Influence Rather than Authority. Buy the book here.

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With an extensive career in government contracting, Tom has found many examples, both good and bad, of leadership. These posts are based on his latest book, Sustained Leadership WBS, published by Morgan James. Tom is available to speak to your team on the importance of developing sustained leaders.


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