Let's go straight to the point: The truth is that people will see you as an authority figure because of the way you make them feel.
That is why you often see that one leader has a formal title, but the true decision maker, power figure and person to turn to for advice is someone else (with or without any formal recognition). That is also why managing from threat and fear is so effective.
I studied this more closely because I had a unique opportunity to work inside of the same organisation on both ends, without formal authority and with. For a few years I was working as a people and performance development specialist and later I formally became leader of this team.
In the 1st case, I was in charge of development for 50+ employees. Those employees were part of different teams inside of the organisation, which meant they have different leaders. I was responsible for development, but also for performance monitoring. And here is the tricky part:
For true development, I, as a trainer, coach and consultant, all in one, needed to establish relationships based on trust with each employee. And all results depended on this. Without trust, there is no credibility and why would my guidance matter in that case?
Also, it was necessary to develop trust with their team leaders. Since I was the one to monitor and assess quality of performance as well, without trust all results can be doubted. They could be questioned as too good or too poor, realistic or not and if they don’t meet expectations, then there is a problem. Sorry, a challenge. Because, I would be challenged by everyone, employees, their team leader, my own leader and manager about the results. And not only me, all other specialists and the process itself.
In the 2nd case, I was leading a team of 7 specialists, part of them was with me in headquarters and part was working remotely, from a different location. This meant responsibility for development of approximately 350 employees. Trust was the key again. This time trust between few more stakeholders than previously.
The difference between the 1st and 2nd case that is relevant for today's article is in formal VS informal authority. In the 1st case, I had no formal authority so I had to "earn" my status. I had to be very clear about who I am and what do I bring to the table and why my work matters. In the 2nd case, I had formal authority so employees would not question my work - well, at least not in the first 5 minutes.
We already established that a relationship of trust is what determines the level of impact.
Now, how do you create and maintain trust with individuals that differ by hierarchy, business interest, location, age, gender, culture… I pinpointed 3 main ways that will help you to influence and be perceived as an authority figure, no matter what your title says:
#1 BE THE BRAND: As any brand, you will need to have clarity around who you are, what do you want to achieve, what do you stand for, what is your non negotiable, what is your leverage. The easiest way to start branding yourself is to define a personal goal and attach it to your position/work, then do a personal SWOT analysis based on the goal and think of 5 -10 actionable steps that you can take every day in order to showcase your brand to others.
E.g. I knew that flexible working hours and the ability of remote work (both were extremely not desirable back then) are non negotiable for me and for my team, so I made sure that I communicated the importance of this, all the benefits to the right people inside of the organisation. Over the coffee, lunch, some other meeting, in an email, I approached it strategically and positioned myself as someone who understands the needs of people in the eyes of my future employees, plus someone who is willing to fight for their needs. I was consistent, honest and transparent in this, and after a while I was known as polite but decisive, flexible and firm at the same time and the seed of trust was planted.
I also branded myself as someone who doesn’t talk behind someone’s back, who keeps your secret safe, who will praise you and support your progress, who will say what you don’t want to hear. So, think about this seriously, think about integrity, the way you talk, write your emails, colors you wear, clothes and hairstyle. Because your image is your brand.
What are you known for? What is your reputation?
#2 COLLABORATE: This might seem a little obvious to you right now, but true collaboration is extremely rare. It takes a very high level of flexibility and self confidence.
Collaboration takes an open mind, zero judgement, trust in others, willingness to change your own standing point. It takes willingness to give before you get.
For this, you want to get clarity about what you can be really flexible on and what is your hard core standing point. E.g. I would be willing to move some of the training or change scope of coaching in favor to someone else. Yet, I wouldn’t accept decreasing minimum quality requirements. Have in mind that this can change over time so keep being open for listening.
Also, collaboration is about communication. Even if you are not OK with something, there is an affirmative way to address it and there is the other way - used by the vast majority. So, if you choose to show respect, regardless of what you might think about someone or something, you will position yourself as part of the few who actually care enough about this aspect.
And every human being has a deeply rooted desire to be respected, as well as to belong.
Base your relationships on this and you will have not only trust, but a strong support system as well. Making impact is so much easier when you have people on your side, not against you, isn’t it?
#3 USE YOUR ENERGY: We are all energy, everything around us is energy which means that those you want to influence are energy as well. To position yourself as an authority figure, pay close attention to the energy you emit. Easiest way to become aware of the energy you emit is to look inside and outside for feedback.
Start practicing meditation, yoga and/or mindful walking. Listen to your body, is there any tension, pain, anxiety? Is there joy or excitement? Where do you feel it?
Take time to ground yourself with inhaling for 4 seconds, holding 1 and exhaling 6 seconds. This will help you to release any stress and to sharpen your focus and increase vibration.
Also, look how people or animals behave around you, do they pick something up and feel anxious or they are totally relaxed or they ignore you? Use this information as a feedback and shift if necessary.
Fastest way to shift your energy is to use the most powerful energy of all - LOVE.
Whatever is happening around you and whatever your state of mind is, if you take a few seconds to evoke a feeling of love in your heart area and spread it around your body. You will emit completely different energy when you enter the meeting room or show up on Zoom. This is a very powerful technique to influence. People will sense energy of love, power, security, compassion and they will not be hostile or feel threatened by you, they will feel safe. Therefore, they will be more receptive and willing to give you what you want.
Remember, people will respond to the way you make them feel. In times like this, times of change, uncertainty and general lack of safety - be the one who does the right thing always, create safe space, communicate transparent and you will develop relationships based on trust. With trust comes loyalty.
If you want to go deeper into all three aspects, contact me.
Your Leadership Mentor,
Leadership is a lifestyle, not a job title.