Authority vs. Influence in Leading Organizational Change
posted by Dave Dame
October 06, 2014
Authority – the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
Influence – the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.
Authority is power. If you want to rule the galaxy by power, then join the dark side of the force. Influence is ability. If you want to lead the galaxy by working together with the citizens to solve the problems, then continue your training to become a Jedi Knight.
Early on in my career I would always say to myself… If only he had the authority to make these things happen. It would be easy. I had some misconceived notion that being able to say what needs to be done would equate to those things actually being done. I would simply create a vision, tell the organization that they had to follow this vision and I can move on to the next challenge.
As I progressed through my career I moved into positions with authority. My dream finally came true… I would not need to spend a long time campaigning to the mass number of people to get their buy in, I could simply give the marching orders. Although this helped change move quicker, it was not long-lived. The moment we achieved the goal or I redirected my focus to the next opportunity, the previous initiative would fall back to its previous state.
Authority gives you immediate change but it's not long-lived. You can tell somebody what to do. They may do it for the moment. Unless they understand what the problem is that you're trying to solve and why you're doing it, they will not continue doing so after the change.
Authority causes people to act on orders/tasks. Influence is working with people to understand and solve the problem collaboratively together.
In dealing with organizational change, I have learned a great deal of what is needed to help move the critical mass from their current state to the desired state, and to ensure sustainability. I have had to develop a skill set to connect with people, build their trust, unleash their passion, grow their confidence, and move toward a shared vision. Being able to influence takes a lot of work. You don't get there overnight. You need relentless pursuit. The ability to be open to refine the vision as you get insight from these people. Give autonomy to those people affected by the change. Lead by example. Build long-lasting relationships. Earn respect.
Influence is when others accept your ideas or direction. It means that people have internalized your message. They believe it. They might even be excited about it.
Authority causes people to act on orders/tasks. Influence is working together to understand and solve the problem.
For long-lived organizational change you need to put in hard work toward influencing the people. People are very habitual. To develop these habits it takes time. We do not quit bad habits, rather replace them with good habits. Make being a positive influence your habit. Having influence with others does not only make you a fantastic change agent, it also makes you an fantastic colleague.
In future posts I will speak to this specifically in the context of Organizational Agility Transformations.