Influence without authority: we are all big dogs now

Modern management demands that everyone behave as senior leaders always have - using influence rather than authority.

Abridged video transcript: Influence without authority: we are all big dogs now

Hi, I’m Kevan Hall, CEO of Global Integration. We are an ideas, consulting and training company that specialises in people management in complex, matrixed, virtual and global organizations. I would like to share with you some of our ideas on working in these very complex organizations.

I was running a matrix management workshop recently for a group of managers who had recently been promoted to executive band in a large global organization. We were talking about sources of power and influence at senior levels in the organization. One of the delegates told me that the best piece of advice he received when he reached executive level was to recognize that “we are all big dogs now”, and that traditional power and authority were not the ways to get things done.

In many organizations, you progress your career by using positional power and traditional authority to get things done. Very often, as middle managers, we have clear areas of responsibility and accountability and are able to deliver many of our key objectives and metrics by focusing on our own area of responsibility. Within that area, we are indeed a ‘big dog’, and we can use that power to get things done quite effectively.

However, when we get promoted to executive level in our organizations, we find there is much more need to work across the traditional organizational boundaries. We need to build alliances and use influence with people we have no formal authority over. We have to learn to engage peers or superiors who are just as positionally powerful as we are. As my delegate said ‘We are all big dogs now’. We have to find other skills and means for getting things done.

In many organizations, individuals newly promoted to executive level cling too long to legacy hierarchical and positional power as a means of getting things done. These people often don’t survive the transition to senior levels in complex organizations.

More talented senior leaders always used a broader range of skills and ways of getting things done, and are able to adapt more easily to this new environment. Senior leaders have worked in this networked way for a long time, and we can help them do that by assisting them to develop strong networks and relationships.

Organizations invest in making sure these people are well-informed, networked and empowered, and these groups typically spend a lot of time together to socialize strategy at conferences and leadership retreats.In a matrix we are asking people much further down into the organization to let go of positional and hierarchical power, and get much more done through influence, networks and expertise.

In effect, we are asking them to behave in the way senior leaders always have. We are asking them to become ‘big dogs’ too. To do this, we need to make sure they have the skills, information, confidence and backing to operate in this way. Otherwise, we should not be surprised if they fall back on traditional forms of power that may be much less effective in getting things done in the matrix.

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