Maximizing Authority through Leadership - Part 1
Leading with Authority
Welcome to Polymathic Being, a place to explore counterintuitive insights across multiple domains. These essays take common topics and explore them from different perspectives and disciplines and, in doing so, come up with unique insights and solutions. Fundamentally, a Polymath is a type of thinker who spans diverse specialties and weaves together insights that the domain experts often don’t see.
Today's topic is part 2 in a series on leadership. Part 1, Leading Without Authority, breaks apart a common trope and reorients a better understanding of authority. This part will explore techniques to maximize your leadership potential!
In my previous essay, Leading Without Authority, I discussed that, in fact, you cannot lead without authority and that authority is derived from individuals through a variety of mechanisms both direct and indirect. With this in mind, I’d like to discuss how a leader can maximize their authority on an assignment from sources outside of their direct team.
Any task you are assigned by a sponsor requires authority to be successful. For the sake of this essay, sponsors are those who are requesting and benefiting from the results of your effort and include but are not limited to, either internal or external, functional or cross-functional, direct or indirect, and superior or peer.
The fact you are assigned or asked to perform a task is a form of authority but it may be limited or it may not be enough authority based on the situation. What I’d like to focus on are the tools you have at your disposal to lock in and improve the authority derived externally from your team.
A clear assignment definition with a timeline, goals, and deliverables codifies the sponsor’s intent. This clarifies to both the leader and the sponsor the explicit limits of the authority and sets the stage for the leader to develop their own goals, tasks, and actions to meet the sponsor’s intent.
Clearly allocated resources, whether direct reports or not, continue to set a clear expectation of the level of authority granted. If key resources are needed but are not allocable by the sponsor, then further engagement may be necessary since you do not have the authority to leverage them directly. It is critical to ensure the resources required are under the influence of the sponsor or the sponsorship level or the number of sponsors may need to increase.
Understanding who the sponsor believes is affected by this assignment allows the leveraging of those stakeholders for additional authority. This also assists in identifying where authority conflicts may come into play during execution.
A defined communication plan allows the leader to target the appropriate stakeholders with updates, highlights, and challenges which, if done right, may motivate the application of additional authority as needed.
In walking through these actions, a sponsor may begin to identify complications with the level of authority granted and may begin to take actions to ensure success. In the case that the sponsor does not realize this, a leader can make specific requests, and suggestions, and define risks and opportunities to leverage further authority. The goal of these steps will be the increase of your authority or the leveraging of the sponsor’s authority for success.
The same techniques apply if you are taking the initiative to perform a task that was not assigned, may not be an immediate priority, or has not been under consideration. In this situation, a strong business case, realistic plan, and passion will enable a potential sponsor to decide whether to move forward with an effort, but this time with steps 1-4 already established, you’ll be able to do so with the proper support.
If you find, at any point, you are truly trying to lead without authority then you should be concerned with this effort’s alignment with the company. This includes the appropriate use of company time, and the consequences if the effort is not successful or worse, have a detrimental effect on those efforts that do have authority.
All the projects that I’ve analyzed for failure missed one or more of the steps listed above. I should clarify, that these steps are not ‘one and done’ but must be constantly revisited to ensure alignment and support throughout the task execution.
Fundamentally, this is basic project and stakeholder management and we’ve just added in the underlying aspect of maximizing your authority from outside your team so you can be confident that the support, alignment, and resources provided will ensure the success of the project
-Part 2 of 3. Next time we’ll discuss methods to improve authority within the assignment’s direct team
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