I will never forget the time a client on a month long mountaineering expedition I was leading looked at me on the first day and said, “Aren’t you a little young to be leading us?” A little caught off guard, I replied, “How old should I be?”
He was clearly skeptical of my experience and leadership abilities on that first day. Four days later, after I set up his rappel system on a knife-edge ridge in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State, he was pretty happy I was there to show him what to do as he was shaking in his boots.
Once we got into the mountains I could have used my position as his instructor to gain influence over him but I decided to let my expertise speak for itself.
I am often asked “how can I influence others when my position offers me little formal leadership”. My quick answer is “The same way as if you had a formal title”.
As a leader, you hold a certain amount of influence over a group of people. There are 5 main types of influencers or “power” as Tom Kendrick highlights in his book Results Without Authority.
- Power Of Position
- Power To Coerce
- Power To Reward
- Power Of Expertise
- Power Of Personality
Influencing others through your position and coercion come with a position of formal authority but are the least preferred methods of any quality leader. Too often, people feel they need to lead from a position with a fancy title. They say things like ‘if I was in XYZ position it would be so much easier to get people to do ABC.”
Sure, the Power of Position and the Power to Coerce are strong-arm leadership tactics usually available to those with fancy titles but for exceptional leaders, they are the least used. There are many more tactics to use to gain influence than those only available to positions of formal authority. The three Kendrick noted in his book are the Power to Reward, Power of Expertise and Power of Personality. Let’s look at these in a bit more detail:
- Power to Reward: Anyone in an organization can influence through this avenue by nominating others for rewards, praising people, and doing other things that appreciated. For more information on how to show the right appreciation, download this article I wrote titled: Are You Showing the Right Appreciation at Work?
- Power of Expertise: This is an effective source of leadership influence for project leaders. Influence based on what you know is always effective with senior management and stakeholders. They did, after all, put you in the charge of the project. Within your team, expertise will help you gain respect and credibility. People like to know their leader has “been there and done that”. Storytelling is a valuable way to grow your influence through your expertise.
- Power of Personality: Your influence through personality will flourish in the relationships you build with others. Investing in team building, informal communication, and establishing a basis for mutual trust can also provide a leader with a great deal of influence. This type of influence is particularly useful in times of stress and turmoil. Maintaining friendly, respectful relationships with members of your team is invaluable.
In a recent webinar I was delivering to 1100 project managers from around the world, I presented a poll questions asking which type of power they utilized most at a leader. I was not too surprised to learn the overwhelming favorite was Power of Personality.
Make Time To Build Relationships!
Managing the details of projects, divisions or companies is important work but managing should start with people. Over and over again, I am told by people in leadership positions who struggle with managing their team that they don’t have time to spend on team development activities in or outside of meetings. My response is usually that they need to shift priorities and make time if they want their teams to reach their full potential in achieving the high standards and goal you have set out.
By the end of the expedition, the concerned client at the beginning of the trip gave me one of the most glowing evaluations ever. When seeking influence, lead with your appreciation, personality and expertise.
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author and Ironman competitor.
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