Leading without Formal Authority

Thank you to all who took our leadership survey through our newsletter and social media last month! According to the poll results, the biggest challenge for collaborative leadership is “Leading Without Formal Authority”.

So here are some things to keep in mind if you want to lead well, even when you don’t have the title “leader.”

1. Leadership is a process – not just a position

That means that leadership is not about your title. Instead, it is about connecting with people and moving together toward a common goal. You can do that no matter what your title or position.

2. Leadership power comes in many forms

So, you don’t need a “title” in order to have “power” for making leadership happen. In their classic study on bases of power, researchers French and Raven identified six types:

  1. Legitimate: We might call this the power that comes from your title or given level of responsibility in your organization.

  2. Reward: This is the power to provide benefits for others, based on how they respond to your leadership. Think of concrete things like compensation, and time off as well as things that are harder to measure, like encouragement, positive feedback, and recognition.

  3. Expert: If you are recognized for your “expertise,” then you may have additional power in certain contexts and conversations. For example, A medical doctor has expert power.

  4. Referent: Some power comes from trust or likability. For example, think about a popular blogger’s ability to sway people based on the books or products she recommends.

  5. Coercive: If people believe you have the power to punish them for noncompliance, then you have this form of power.

  6. Informational: This last type was an add-on to the five mentioned above. Think of your ability to access the information needed by others and control its flow.

Of course, all these forms of power and their use have ethical implications, which leads me to an observation about values and power.

3. Values empower leadership

In my work both as a leader in an organization and a coach for leaders in other organizations, I’ve found core values to be another important power source. When we are plugged into something “bigger than ourselves” like the core values that motivate us, we can tap into the additional energy and emotional resources needed for tough leadership situations. This connection with core values is also highlighted in discussions on “authentic leadership.”

More Resources

Claremont Lincoln University discusses leadership in all our MA degrees, and students can complete focused leadership studies through our MA in organizational leadership, which includes concentrations in ethical leadership, human resource leadership, civic engagement, healthcare, and higher education. We also have programs on social impact and peace and social justice.

For other resources, I encourage you to look at this slideshare on “intentional influence,” Ira Chaleff’s work on being a courageous follower,  a chapter I wrote on followership and leadership ethics, this core values worksheet, this video on French and Raven’s power types, and this book on authentic leadership.

Wishing you success for your leadership development and stay tuned for more tips and resources!

Stan J. Ward, Ph.D. Dean, Capstone Studies and Director, Center for Action Research Claremont Lincoln University.

 Claremont Lincoln University is an educational partner with Southern California Leadership Network.