BR#27: Leading Without Authority

How do you lead without positional authority? Can you?

In business (as it probably is with everything else), authority enables fast decision-making.

If you say it, then it must be done.

When you make a good call from a position of authority, it can help the business mildly because you'll be able to move forward a little bit faster than you would by putting it up for debate.

When you make a bad call, it can lead to disaster.

It's therefore no surprise that many complex, modern companies today are choosing a different approach.

One that fosters an inclusive and collaborative work environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute and drive positive change.

But how do you lead without positional authority? Can you?

This is a question that I've had to face head on as a freelancer who for years has wanted to help drive successful outcomes for large organisations.

Working with companies as an external partner means that you don't really have the benefit of title or rank.

Stakeholders and partners won't just do things because you tell them to, and yet, your clients do require you to successfully drive action.

Being in this position over the years has helped me nurture skills that I am very grateful for. And I’m a big believer that regardless of whether or not you have positional authority, you’ll be making better decisions overall if you take the approach that I’m about to summarise.

First of all, virtually all of the great leaders (i.e. successful people in leadership positions) that I’ve worked with in the past 10 years have been very open to feedback, constructive criticism and have on many occasions proved a willingness to change their minds if the facts presented were solid and convincing enough.

So how do you lead without relying on positional authority?

Here are my 6 tips for this week:

1. Take the time necessary to understand the business and its needs.

I’ve really grown to enjoy taking the time to understand other people's jobs and how they do them. Not because I need to do any part of them myself, but because it helps me understand their needs and to clearly understand why existing processes/ tools are failing them.

This is important because nuances matter. Someone can come to you and tell you what they don’t like about a tool or a process, but if you take the time to really understand how they manage their work, the “aha” moment may prove to come not from their initial feedback, but from those nuances.

2. Build and nurture cross-functional relationships

The keyword is cross-functional*. It’s really important to get out of your comfort zone and interact with people in different functions. This is an intangible benefit, but it's a big one. It's hard to measure exactly what the impact of this practice is and when it will become useful, but spend enough time doing it and it always pays off. Always.

3. Seek feedback and include your team when making decisions

People should always feel comfortable about telling you their honest opinions. That doesn’t mean that you have to change course because someone has a different view, but people should always feel like it’s okay to challenge you on your thinking. Often, their insights can help you refine it and add nuance and depth to your perspective.

4. Facilitate collaboration.

Sometimes, solving a challenge is less about what you need to do yourself and more about giving people the right framework or help so that they can collaborate effectively and solve it themselves.

5. Let go.

Just because we are good at something, doesn’t always mean we are best placed to do it. Even if we enjoy it. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to let others take over so that we can dedicate our full focus to the areas where we can add the most value.

6. Be patient.

Decisions can take longer when more people are involved. In my experience, it’s often a good idea to limit just how many people are involved in making a decision to only those who can really help shape the best version of it. And yes, this approach requires patience.

It can take a while for everyone to offer their input. You’ll have more drafts to go through before the final version is ready. But shaping your decision with a high degree of depth and nuance can lead to better outcomes and issues avoided down the line.

Kind regards,



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