Most of us are working in an environment and culture in which we (luckily!) cannot just demand someone to follow our orders. We’re not McDonalds. We are all working with highly skilled and experienced professionals who will only follow us, if we earn their trust and gain authority through our actions, not hierarchy. I would not want it any other way!
So, how do you gain authority as a leader in your org and with partners?
Step one is to have your act together. You need to know what you know, and what you don’t. Don’t pretend you know something, only to then be called out on your gaps. Don’t make up stuff if you want to be trusted and followed.
Of course, you will want to close the gap on the things that you don’t know as quickly as possible. Ask lots of questions, learn, reflect, understand.
Learning and deeply understanding your space is the 101, so I will not spend any further time on this. I wanted to call it out though since authority without understanding isn’t sustainable in our space.
Be bold, accept the risk to fail
As a leader, you are expected to make tough calls and bold decisions. You cannot do that if you are afraid of risk or scared of failing. In addition, if you don’t make bold calls, people will not follow you because quite frankly you are not leading.
As a leader, you cannot play it safe. Take calculated risks, but take risks. Free your mind by allowing yourself the option to fail.
When I look back at my own different leadership roles, I can see a clear pattern of being most impactful as a leader when I had the least concern about what I could potentially lose. I was bold, took the right risks and set unambiguous direction when I wasn’t scared about failing or losing something. I was lame when I was so concerned about a certain personal outcome or gain, that I tried to avoid anything that could put that outcome at risk.
The good news is that the loss avoidance mindset is a question of your perspective and subsequently you are in control to change it. It is the human default though, which means you need to put in serious energy to change it.
Leadership means making bold decisions and taking calculated risks. As a leader, you need to bring (disruptive) energy into the system to break the inertia of everyone else who is playing it safe. You need to shake the status quo. You must take risks.
You cannot please everyone anyway; be bold where it’s needed. Don’t be fluffy.
Free yourself from being scared. You won’t die. Take (personal) risks and be bold, otherwise you will get nowhere.
The above inspires me to take a little detour on decision-making. Being bold, taking risks and setting direction automatically leads to a reflection on decision making.
There are fundamentally two types of decisions. It’s important to understand what type of decision you are trying to make or drive.
Decisions you feel you should make and own
Get your data, understand the problem, weigh the options, and then make the decision. You are empowered to do so.
However, you cannot hide your decision. Decision authority is not a blank check to do whatever you want.
Communicate your decision out with the reasons why you took it. This is not to ask for permission, but to (1) make sure everyone is aware and (2) to let folks chime in and call out if you should have missed a key piece of data in your decision making (yes, that can happen!).
Decisions that you feel are above your paygrade and you don’t feel comfortable to make them
Same as above, do the research, gather all the data, weigh all the options, prepare to the point where you would feel that you can make a decision.
Then just change your communication style. Instead of communicating a decision, make a proposal and ask for help to decide. Set a clear date by when you need a decision and drive to that date. Don’t ask an open ended question (‘what should we do?’), don’t just present alternatives without proposal and reasoning why.
In both cases of decision-making, explain the reasons for your decision or proposal. Give others the required context to follow along.
Confidence establishes authority
So, you have clarity on your areas of competency (and the blind spots) and work on expanding them. You freed yourself (at least partially) from being scared of mistakes and failures. You got yourself to a point where you make bold decisions and take calculated risks.
Great! Be proactive about it. You achieved a lot, project it outwards. Proactively, not just when called upon. Take the lead!
Bring it all together and you will project competence and confidence.
Competence and confidence establish authority.
And just to be clear: this is NOT the same as ‘fake it until you make it’.
Did you like this article? Want to read more?
I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:
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