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Paving The Way: Influencing People When You Don’t Have Perceived Authority  

This news story was published on November 10, 2020.
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Yes, it is much easier to make people abide by your rules or do as you say when you are their superior, whether in the company structure or by the scale of your reputation and accomplishments. But what are you supposed to do when you are ‘just another brick in the wall’ and still you need to lead the innovations or large-scale changes that depend on interactions of lots of people, some of them not even from your company? Actually, many people find themselves in such a position today: hierarchies flatten, outsource takes over, virtual teams and independent contractors have become a norm, and you just don’t have powers to tell people what to do and expect it completed immediately and exactly as told. You have to adjust your managerial or leading style to new conditions, and this is where lateral, or ‘leading without formal leadership’ approach has to be implemented. Luckily, today you can learn this leading style at the good influence skills courses and complete your influencing task successfully now and in the future.

But what does it mean, to lead without authority? How does it work? Here’s a glimpse into the essential components and challenges of this approach.

Lateral leadership

Lateral leadership is cooperative and negotiating approach to making people do what you need.  Instead of giving orders, or imparting the vision, you work as a part of the team and build coalitions of co-thinkers, negotiate every step you need people to take, find supporters for your task and in general let people  think it was their initiative and accomplishment. Sounds complex, but the required skills and actions are limited in number and accessible to everyone.

Networking. If you are a good manager (and we know you are), you already have this skill. You know right people in right places who are just right for the task you need to accomplish. You maintain the network and so people do not find it hard to oblige you. But if it happens so that you managerial talents lie elsewhere, there’s a great tip: some people are like hubs of useful connections, so know these people well and have them on your side. And they will do the networking job for you.

Building a coalition. It flows naturally from the previous skill. Unite your network into a team who will champion your task or cause. Army of voices has more weight than a lone hero. Pick the most capable and active people, and if possible, find out who of higher ranks can support you. Such people are likely to help if they will win somehow from your initiative,  so present it carefully while negotiating.

Negotiating, as follows, is also a crucial skill. You have to negotiate sincerely, because people who do not report to you formally will immediately perceive your insincerity as manipulation (and they will be right in their assumptions). Negotiation is looking for common grounds and finding solutions that benefit both parties, not you only. Be ready for compromise or tit-for-tat work, where you do something in exchange for support.

Real consultations with people. Your assumptions about how things work and how something should be accomplished can differ radically from view of people actually involved. You may not be aware of all challenges or necessary steps, so when you come and tell those people what to do, it is not a consultation. It is giving orders, and the reaction will be corresponding (you will not like it). So go to the people who know all ‘how to’s’ and ask for their opinions. Then incorporate their insights into your strategy. That’s what real consultations are.

Finally, challenges. Well, every of the mentioned skills can become a challenge if your managerial style was more of directive one.  You may thoroughly lack understanding who does what in the company beyond the circle of your department, and you may lack motivation to meet people and to build alliances, because the short term results are what is expected from you. But times are changing, and either you learn to build networks, find key people and make them your proponents on the way to changes, or… No, we just know you can do it, with a little bit of reading and training.

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