Managing by Influence Instead of Authority
I once interviewed for an Information Development manager position in a highly visible and successful product development group in a well-known company. The interviewers emphasized that the most significant challenge would be to get the teams of writers in three different geographic locations (two companies are subsidiaries of the third) to work together toward a unified mission and common vision. During the interview, I asked the writers on the three documentation teams what their expectations were for an ID manager who was charged with getting writers from all three different environments to overcome their perceptions and prejudices of the other environments and to work together as a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine.
The response that resonated with me was: “We need a manager who can manage by influence and not authority.” I had recently purchased a book entitled Influence Without Authority, by Allan Cohen and David Bradford, but had not yet read it. That evening, I found the book in my home library and began reading. As I progressed deeper into the book, I was relieved to read that I had already incorporated many of the authors’ suggestions into my management style, but I also could see that the idea of influence takes on many different shades and hues in a corporate environment.
What is influence and how can we differentiate the authoritative manager from the influential manager? Authoritative managers are often seen (by themselves and others) as the Keepers of the Power, the Purveyors of All Things Good and Evil. Most of their energies and time are directed in a “downward” manner, to the subordinates, giving rise to the heroic assumption that it is the manager or supervisor who is solely responsible for departmental success, visibility, and viability. In an authoritative environment, those reporting to such a manager do not feel empowered to initiate positive change or implement new ideas on a grander scale. Instead, the group goes into survival mode, satisfied with the small successes it generates, and begins the process of delegating upward to the authority figure who has the responsibility for all important decisions.
Influential managers, on the other hand, recognize that the secret to their success (and the success of their subordinates) lies with establishing relationships lateral to and upward from their own center of control. They understand that they must be effective at influencing others and, in turn, being influenced themselves. They understand that influence is not about politics, private agendas, exploitation, or empire building, but rather that influence is about exchange and cooperation. They pass the hero’s baton to their subordinates and build the conditions in which all can participate and enjoy the rewards of success. They understand that being influenced isn’t about paybacks; it’s all about partnering for future use and mutual benefit.
Influence is about finding common ground with others and building strategic alliances or partnerships. In a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, people engaged in successful alliances believe that
- Collaboration is competition in another form
- Harmony is not the most important measure of success
- Cooperation has its limits, and companies must defend against competitive compromise
- Learning from partners is paramount
In other words, your colleagues can be both your competitors and collaborators toward mutual goals. The skillful manager understands this dilemma and can negotiate through it when necessary.
One model for influence is the Cohen-Bradford Model of Influence Through Exchange, which has served many who have been faced with needing something from someone who had no formal obligation to cooperate. Figure 1 illustrates this influence-through-exchange process.
Learning how to influence others and how to be influenced by others isn’t rocket science; it’s people science. You negotiate the corporate landscape and its inhabitants much the way the early pioneers did on their journeys west. With some individuals, you establish relationships for mutual benefit; with others, you trade or exchange items that have a value to each of the parties involved; and with a few, you keep your distance and only engage them when you really have to. (Remember: harmony is not necessarily a sign of success.) True influence is being a catalyst for the success of others without any expectation of payback.