Leadership Influence Without Authority

May 2017

How network leaders can motivate stakeholders and gain credibility

By Jo Anne Preston, MS, Workforce and Organizational Development Senior Manager, Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC)

The notion of the solitary, forceful leader who makes things happen is outdated for the way we want to do business today. Position power can make us comply – for a while anyway. But when what you really want is people joining your cause and kicking in (think: leading a rural health network), your real power lies in your ability to influence. 

Understanding Motivational Styles through Personality Theory

What we can do is “fuel” the motivational needs that others have, and one way to get better at this is through a basic understanding of personality theory. How one is wired in personality reveals unique information about the kind of fuel needed to get him or her motivated, and the conduit is how we communicate. Examine your communication style to see if you meet the needs of those whose motivation requires the following elements: 

  • Action: Long-term plans, goals, and visions are important, but to engage some people, they need to take an immediate actionable step that shows a result or movement. How can you help people take a clear action step that moves things forward in a visible way? Tip: Answer the “what.” Quick and to-the-point communication works best for action-motivated individuals, using bullet points or what someone can read in a phone screen message.
  • Order: Some people are motivated by seeing an orderly foundation for moving people forward in a systematic way. How can you provide a sense of structure that will be a bedrock of support for a systematic way of doing things? Tip: Answer the “how.” More detail is needed for this individual, with details in order, and evidence that you have considered all angles, even the downsides.
  • ​​​​​​Belonging: Maslow has never been proven wrong that belonging is essential, and facilitating personal connections for people makes you a valuable influencer. It is an especially important skill as you bring new people into your efforts over time, to engage the new with the existing group. How can you make people feel like they are more connected with like-minded others? Tip: Answer the “who.” Attend to relationship building at the beginning of any interaction, and never begin work until any new person has been introduced and formally welcomed.
  • Ideas: Motivation can come when people sense that their ideas are sought after, and they will “support what they help to create.” How can you provide fertile soil for creativity and innovation? Tip: Answer the “why.” Ask for ideas and input, how something could be made even better. Establish meaning and relevance to what you are doing.  

Increasing your own influence

There are many recipes for gaining influence, but they all have one vital ingredient: the ability to build relationships of trust. This article identifies a few opportunities to reflect on your own trust-building behaviors. Your credibility earned through trust is your secret sauce, and you can’t really influence without it. But trust doesn’t stand alone.

How you handle yourself makes more difference than you might think, and it definitely impacts your ability to influence. We sometimes undermine our own credibility without realizing it. The following small steps can help us self-manage our actions to maintain credibility with stakeholders:

1. Ask for help. When you don’t ask others for help, they don’t get a chance for successful contribution, and then we may wonder why they are not engaged. This can also lead to feeling like you have to do everything yourself. “I could really use your help; would you be willing?” is a great way to influence and gain engagement.

2. Create space for others to lead. Ego can get in the way of effective power when we fail to create space for others to lead too. We need not be threatened by others’ power. Instead, find ways to access others with influential power to help you bring people on board. Take advantage of their relationships to make connections for you.

3. Manage stress. It can truly be said that we are not overwhelmed by life, but that we overwhelm ourselves with our thoughtsabout life. People sense our overwhelmed demeanor and run the other way. Break your initiatives down into clear milestones you can articulate so that you can “sell” something people can envision (and at the same time, enjoy less stress).

4. Appeal to their needs. Having a great idea is not enough to get people to sign up. There are competing needs for time and energy, and you can’t “should” someone into joining. If you find your frustration is getting the best of you, you may be trying to push a noodle uphill. What would appeal to them? How does it serve a need they have? Find a connecting story rather than a “should.”

5. Never use gossip as influence. If someone upsets you, listen to them instead of talking about it to others. They may have something you need to hear and may be in a position at some point in the future to help you. Gossip comes back like a boomerang. Gossip is influence, but not the kind that helps. 

6. Be specific. Get better at specifically estimating the time or financial resource ask you are making, e.g., “This will take about 10 hours over the next 6 weeks.” It helps people discern and decide.

7. Start small. Getting a “yes” doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Take advantage of pilots where you try something out as a study to learn from it. Provide different tiers of what you offer to allow people to see some benefits without having to fully commit before they are ready. 

By becoming aware of the motivators of different personality types, building trust in our relationships, and taking manageable steps to maintain credibility, leaders can more effectively influence collaborators to support the work of the network.
Remember you already are having an influence. Is the kind of influence you want to have? List your assets. What do you have to offer as uniquely you? Make use of it, without over-relying on it. Any strength over-used can become a liability.
Jo Anne Preston is the Workforce and Organizational Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) in Sauk City, WI. RWHC serves rural hospitals in Wisconsin with a variety of products and services to support and enhance rural healthcare. Jo Anne’s work includes designing and delivering leadership education, leadership coaching, team facilitation and consultation around employee engagement and customer service. She also serves on a variety of workforce-related work groups in Wisconsin to address solutions to rural workforce shortages. She has a M.S. in Educational Psychology/Community Counseling from Eastern Illinois University.