Ep 38: Authority Vs Influence: Where Does Your Real Power Reside?

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In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine explore the difference between influence and authority, and discuss how we can positively influence our relationship systems for the better, regardless of our title or position.


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Check out Irvine’s new book Leadership Lessons From The Pub.

Check out Bridgette’s book which she co-authored with Bod Duggan  Resilient Leadership 2.0.

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Bridgette (00:03):

Well, hello everybody and welcome to the Resilient Leadership Podcast where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you to leave with a greater sense of calm, clarity and conviction, even in anxious times. And my name is Bridgette Theurer and I am joined today by my trusted host and collaborator, Irvine Nugent. Irvine, it’s so good to see you. How are you?

Irvine (00:29):

I’m doing wonderful, Bridgette. Thank you so much. Summer is upon us, and I just got back from a trip, which was, uh, a lot of fun. It was my husband’s, uh, 30th uh, reunion, 30th anniversary reunion from dental school. And I’ll mention this a little bit later in our conversation cause I think it’s, it’s apropos, but, uh, yeah. So I’m very relaxed and I’m enjoying life. How about yourself?

Bridgette (00:53):

I’m doing well. And you know, we were talking a little bit before we hit record about some, uh, little interesting dynamics, uh, that I’ve been navigating lately. But today is a new day and, uh, I’m feeling pretty good. I do remember that you were going to that reunion, so I’m looking forward to hearing something about it. Yeah,

Irvine (01:11):

That’s awesome. Yeah. So, uh, without further ado then, Bridgette, why are we gonna talk about today?

Bridgette (01:17):

So, today is a topic I have been stewing on and thinking about, uh, for quite a while. And so what we’re going to explore is the difference between authority in, in influence, and this notion of where does our real power reside as leaders. Mm-hmm. You know, when you think about authority, we think about positional power and title. Right? And so when we get promoted, let’s say, into any leadership position with it comes a title, and with that comes some power. Mm-hmm. And of course that makes sense, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we, we have certain amount of power by virtue of our position in the organization. And yet we’ve all seen cases where people have the authority and the title, but for whatever reason, they’re not able to move, to inspire, to motivate, to influence in the way that they want. So for example, let’s say somebody is brought in with this big mandate of change, right?

(02:19):

And, and they’re given the title to go with it, and yet they fail to bring about the kind of change that was their mandate. And why is that? Right? But then on the other hand, we’ve all been around people who have had a profound influence on other human beings and didn’t have hardly any positional authority to do so. And I think that’s just interesting. And so we’re gonna kind of talk about, well, why is that and what are the implications for us? So I’m excited to dig in and of course, the first thing that I wanna do, ErIrvine, is ask you a question like, in your own experience, can you think of, or from history, maybe you know, cuz you’re a bit of a history buff you like to read and so forth. Can you think of, of a, of an example of somebody who didn’t really have a whole lot of, of authority, but nevertheless wield it significant and positive influence on people?

Irvine (03:21):

Yeah, so it’s interesting, I have two examples. One from history, and that would be the person of Rosa Parks. You know, here was a woman who had little power and certainly had not got a position. And yet for whatever it was on that infamous day when she decided not to move, she began to wield a lot of influence. And what’s interesting was not just that particular example, but how then that example inspired others mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And uh, you know, and as she spoke about that example, how that really began to influence a much bigger movement mm-hmm. <affirmative> these simple acts of disobedience according to the law, but which she kind of spot, you know, a highlight internationally at how ridiculous some of these res laws were. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So she comes to mind. Yeah. And then the second one, actually, I go back to this cruise this weekend, is actually my husband Fred, because he was not the class president, I was surprised to find that out. And the reason I say that is because of the influence he wielded among the class. That, that, that in many ways he was the glue and people looked to him and he had this wonderful, subtle form of influence over, you know, 40, 50 people and yet never held the title of class present, et cetera. And I think in that case, what I saw was the, the power of relationship and the power of those deep relationships that he had mm-hmm. <affirmative> and how then that wielded influence over others.

Bridgette (05:02):

Oh, that is really interesting. So you were actually surprised to find out that he did not have the title of class

Irvine (05:08):

President? Yes. If you’d asked me, I I asked me if you had looked at a video of what was happening, you’d said, well, who was the class president? You would’ve said it was him and he wasn’t.

Bridgette (05:16):

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Irvine (05:17):

It was really interesting.

Bridgette (05:19):

That is fascinating. It’s just such a great example of what we’re gonna be exploring today. And you know, all of us want to be, we wanna be like Fred, we want to be influential, right? Yeah. Yeah. And, uh, and yet sometimes like how you do that can be tough. And I, I, you know, I’ve coached clients who say to me, you know, I don’t have a lot of people reporting to me right now, but I have to influence all of them. Yeah. You know, how do I do that? Okay. Yeah. So maybe a good place to start is by defining our terms, cuz we’re using this word authority mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and we’re using this other word influence. So IrIrvinee speak, you know, for a moment, what do we really mean when we use those words?

Irvine (06:05):

Yeah. So let, let’s just, um, see, can we distinguish nuances between them? So I think for the purposes of our discussion today, when we think about authority, I think authority is something formal. It, it’s this, right? That we have to give orders to make decisions to hire and fire people. It’s the title, you know. And so obviously when we have authority, the understanding goes with it that, that if we have demands that people will comply with them. And people recognize in us that we have the authority to do that. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So, and it’s a part of leadership, you know, so this is not something bad. This is something that’s absolutely key and necessary, otherwise our organizations would disintegrate into pure chaos. And so therefore that’s important, but it is not the only area that is needed for leadership. Part of what, uh, we wanna move on to as well is the idea of influence.

(07:06):

So it is a balance off authority, but then also with influence. And what we mean by influence is this ability to positively shape and impact how people feel, how they think, and how they act. And I think that was, you know, perfectly came out in the two examples that I just used as well. That it changed how people feel their think and their act. And, and I think there’s, therefore there’s many ways that everyone can influence. So influence is not just germane to leadership, but rather everyone has the potential to influence. Um, not everyone has the authority, but everyone can influence. And so mm-hmm. You know, I think there are many examples of this, you know, I can remember and sure you can as well have been involved in team meetings, et cetera, and the team say, hits a bump and there’s a block, and they’re just, we can’t move on there, there, there’s no kind of momentum or movement.

(08:05):

And then all of a sudden someone shares an observation, someone asks a question, um, someone makes a comment or is able to shine light on something that hasn’t been imagined before. And then all of a sudden it begins this kind of light bulb moment or, or, or an ability to kind of move past or move beyond the block mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you can feel the energy shift, the energy has shifted, and all of a sudden there’s a little bit of excitement. And very often that doesn’t have to come from the leader, that can come from anyone in the team. And it’s a beautiful way of showing how influence has the way to change the energy in a room, has the way to change how people feel, think about a certain situation.

Bridgette (08:51):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, oh, I can relate to that so much. I hear a lot of the people that I coach, you know, complain about being in these meetings constantly. Right. And sometimes they’re just like, well, one is, should I even be in this meeting? But now I’m stuck in it, you know, and then it’s not going particularly well. It’s ineffective, it’s boring, and they fail to realize what you just said. Mm. Which is, there is an, an opportunity to lead in that meeting from any seat on the bus, so to speak, right? Mm. Yeah. You know, if you really want to look at a group of people and discern who is the leader among them, forget about titles. Look for the person who is elevating the functioning of the group. Right. Look for the person who is helping that group of people to think more clearly, to collaborate more effectively, to be more creative, more thoughtful.

(09:51):

That’s your leader in that moment, in that situation, right? Yeah. And so, to your point, every single day we have opportunities to do that, to influence our relationship systems for the better. I don’t think we always seize the opportunity because I think we’re so used to looking at hierarchy and saying, well, I’m not the leader here. I’m not the meeting facilitator. I’m not the guy who runs this team. You know, or the gal who runs this team. So yeah, I think that’s a great example. So in influence is about being able to shape how people think, feel and act, as you said, right? Yeah. So IrIrvinee, what is a time in your own personal experience when you felt influential?

Irvine (10:42):

Yeah, so it’s really interesting. I wanna think about a situation, actually, I had a few, uh, months ago, it was a training event. So I’m a trainer, you know, and, um, I’m facilitator, you know, part of the gift of that is to make some observations. And I’m not the leader there. There’s a leader, there’s a self-defined leader, et cetera. But I remember we were talking about our behavioral styles. It was a session actually on disc. The group was of a style that was very detail-oriented, and it was a very well-functioning group. There was no real arguments, but they were all very nitpicky and, and, and <laugh> detail-oriented, et cetera. And so I remember just asking them a question, and the question was, well know what is a gift that an other style could bring that you’re missing?

Bridgette (11:29):

Hmm.

Irvine (11:30):

And you could just see everyone like was like, oh. And they started looking at the reality a little bit differently and they started thinking about what is it? How could we make this even better by bringing in perhaps some behavioral patterns that are outside our norm? And I remember coming away from that thinking, you know, the power of a question to influence, um, thinking. And really, it, I got a few emails after that people saying, you know, we never thought of that before. And that was so powerful and we’ve revisited it. And so for me that was just a, a beautiful way of, of kind of understanding the, it, the how a question can be very influential and change the way people think.

Bridgette (12:14):

Yeah. And I think as trainers and coaches, that’s our sweet spot Right. Is helping people to think differently. Yeah. You know, again, I don’t know that we always recognize in influence as a moment in which we inspire people to think differently. Yeah,

Irvine (12:32):

Yeah. Yeah. And I think, you know, so often leaders as well are at their best when they can ask some questions that really have people think about, whoa, I’d never thought of that before. And now I, and there’s kind of silence, like, let me get back to you on that. That’s when you really know you’ve got someone you know, and, and then influence and, and you know, kind of the influence comes from that.

Bridgette (12:55):

Mm-hmm.

Irvine (12:55):

<affirmative>. Yeah. So, you know, Bridgette, we’ve talked about kind of the distinction between authority and influence. And so let’s just refocus now on influence, irrespective of we’ve got the title or the authority. What are some ways that we may be able to exercise influence in these circumstances?

Bridgette (13:17):

So one of the things that comes to mind for me is a, a quote, one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you probably know where I’m going with this. <laugh>.

Irvine (13:28):

I love it. I love it. I love it.

Bridgette (13:30):

<laugh>. And she said, people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. And that quote has always stopped me in my tracks because, you know, I spend a lot of time thinking about how, how should I say this? You know, because that’s gonna make the biggest difference, right? Or what can I get people to do? But in the end, what her quote suggests to us is that how we make people feel is at the core of influence. Influence is an emotional phenomena. And so it suggests this very powerful question that we can all sort of pause and ask, how do people feel in my presence? You know, and how do I want them to feel my presence? And to our listeners, you know, I invite you to think about that. Like, do you want people to feel inspired, challenged, hopeful, optimistic, energized. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> that we can be more intentional about that. I think that’s the key. We’re always making people feel something. Yeah. But is it, you know, is it what we want them to be feeling? Yeah. That’s the ticket. ErIrvine, how about you? I mean, when you kind of take a moment to ponder that question, how do you want people to feel in your presence?

Irvine (15:05):

I want people to feel secure. I want them to feel supported. I want them to feel that they can be themselves and create a space where that’s able to happen.

Bridgette (15:21):

Yeah. Secure. That is such a, a really lovely word that people would feel secure

Irvine (15:29):

Mm.

Bridgette (15:30):

In your presence. And I can see that. Yeah.

Irvine (15:34):

How about you?

Bridgette (15:35):

Yeah, I think, I hope that people would feel in my presence that they are seen in a really seen for who they are. That they are heard and that they have a glimpse of their giftedness that maybe they didn’t have before. So they feel emboldened by who they are at their best.

Irvine (16:00):

Yeah. Hmm.

Bridgette (16:02):

And you know, it’s funny because I actually didn’t know how I would answer that question until you asked me it in the moment.

Irvine (16:13):

Hmm.

Bridgette (16:14):

And I think it’s a question that we can be in if we wanna be more influential, we can ask that question generally, like we just did with one another, but we can also ask it in context. Yeah. So if we have an important meeting coming up, or an event or a conversation, we can reflect for a moment, right. In this meeting, in this event, in this situation, how do I want this person or my team, or my family or this group to feel as I engage with them?

Irvine (16:48):

Yeah. So important.

Bridgette (16:50):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Irvine (16:51):

So Bridgette, any other, um, thoughts come to mind when you think about exercising greater influence?

Bridgette (16:58):

Well, the other one that comes to my mind, and I’m sure this is shaped by being a coach, but, and it’s a little counterintuitive, but I think it’s that one of our tools for being influential is to get better at deeply listening to people and uncovering their cares and concerns. When we talk about being more influential, I think a lot of people think about how do I talk more commandingly mm-hmm. <affirmative> and how do I come into the room and Right. But it really begins with that kind of deep listening where we unearth what others really hope for, what they aspire to, what they care about, what their goals are, and then we, we can connect our agenda to theirs.

Irvine (17:47):

Yeah.

Bridgette (17:48):

Yeah. Because that’s, we’re trying to do, when we’re influencing, we’re trying to get people to think or move in a direction, but if we don’t speak to what they care about or how the direction we want them to move in connects to what they care about, we can talk as eloquently as we want. They’re not gonna hear us. Yeah. Right. What do you think? Does that resonate with you, Irv?

Irvine (18:11):

Yeah, it does. You know, I’m thinking of an example. I do a little bit of work with the Bureau of Land Management mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and they’re in charge of the protecting governmental lands, of course. And sometimes there’s real hotspots there and differences. And I remember working with a leader there, and I just thought they were, had an amazing ability. You know, they were talking about a situation where they went into a real hotspot. There was, it was over some land with a tree, and should the tree be cut down or not cut down, and, and the, the locals were wanted, the tree cut down was, was getting in the way of, um, or proposed kind of road, et cetera. And, and, you know, rather coming in than laying down the law, which they could have mm-hmm. <affirmative> and saying, you know, according to regulation 42, 52, 62, you know, I’m, um, but what they did is they, you know, he said to me, he said, I just sat there and listened and said, what, what’s the real issue here? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then he says, you know, and, and here’s, here’s what we’re trying to protect in this, and here’s what we’re trying to preserve mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and is there a way of, in some way coming together that we can have an agreement? And miraculously, there was an agreement at the end, and I thought it was just a beautiful way, you know, instead of going first to authority,

Bridgette (19:22):

Yes.

Irvine (19:23):

It was, no, here’s what I’m going to do is I’m, I’m going to listen very deeply so that I really understand what the concerns are. And then instead of going to authority again, it’s like, this is, this is where the law is coming from. This is the value that we’re trying to upkeep, and can we come together in that? And I thought it was just a beautiful example.

Bridgette (19:43):

Oh, that is great. And you know, I think part of what gets in the way of us doing that more often is just the speed and the pace of organizational life. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we don’t got time to listen <laugh>, you know? Yeah. We have things to do. We have goals to reach. We, you know, and we just sort of, it’s like, come on people, let’s move <laugh>. So I love, love that example. Okay. So to be more influential, uh, we can be mindful of how we want people to feel in our presence. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we can get even better at listening deeply to the genuine cares and concerns and giIrvineg voice to those. But what else? IrIrvinee? Like what comes to your mind as being an important part of being influential?

Irvine (20:33):

Well, you know, from a, a systems perspective, which is we’re always trying to, through a lens in this podcast mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, you really can’t influence a system that you’re not connected to. So connection becomes incredibly important. You know, the days off when you can sit on the high throne and give orders over, you know, and, and so how connected are we to the people that we seek to influence mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And do we have a genuine connection to them? I think, you know, that’s part of what came to me and Fred’s connection to the class, you know, there was such a deep connection and there was an unspoken that this person cares, and therefore that made trust easy. And it made the work of influence flow from that. And, and that’s incredibly important. We are social beings and therefore we have to, you know, trust is, is, is a building block of society. And so in any person, we’re always making this judgment. Do you come as friend or foe? And when we, you know, if we display that we’re here as friend, that we’re really, you know, uh, interested in them, interested in outcomes that benefit everyone mm-hmm. <affirmative>, then the work of influence becomes a lot more interesting and a lot easier as well. Mm-hmm.

Bridgette (21:55):

<affirmative>, you know, you’re reminding me of a book I read many years ago called Good in A Room. Uh, and it was about how you, how you influence it was really about marketing, business development, sales. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, but one of the things I recall from that book is this phrase, no one likes to be sold to by a stranger.

Irvine (22:16):

No, that’s so great. Right.

Bridgette (22:18):

And no one follows a stranger. We don’t, we don’t run up a hill <laugh> and, you know, die for a stranger. Well, we may, but typically it’s for somebody that we have built some trust. Yep. Yeah. So true. And so, isn’t it just funny how just the simple thing about, okay, you know, the quality of my connections makes a big difference in my ability to influence others.

Irvine (22:46):

Absolutely.

Bridgette (22:47):

And it doesn’t take much to bolster the connectivity, you know? Yeah. Sometimes it’s just about being more present.

Irvine (22:56):

Mm.

Bridgette (22:57):

Yes. You know, when we’re there, I was coaching a client the other day and, you know, she oversees a, a, a large organization and she’s like, how can I possibly connect with everybody? And I go, you don’t have to, it’s a system, but when you’re there, how present are you to the people that are there? Cuz that will reverberate, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah. So what do you think, IrIrvinee? We always try to leave people with something they can practice. What do you got in your back pocket for today? So

Irvine (23:29):

Today I wanna turn to the art of questions and look at three questions, which potentially can help us be better influencers. And, uh, here’s the three questions. Uh, so it’s kind of, you’ve already asked this and I think it’s such a beautiful question. You know, as I engage this week with my family, with my work team, how do I want them to feel in my presence? Such a powerful question. How do I want them to feel in my presence? And then let’s turn to listening. Who do I need to listen to more deeply this week? And better to understand what they care most about? And then the final question is, what can I do this week to strengthen the quality of my connections with those I wish to influence?

Bridgette (24:25):

Hmm. Great questions.

Irvine (24:27):

Yeah. Really powerful questions. Enough meat in each of those just to to think about. But yeah, really, really powerful. How do I want people to feel in my presence? Who do I need to listen to more deeply so that they understand that I really care about them? And then who do I or, uh, need to strengthen the quality of my connections with in order that I might influence more?

Bridgette (24:52):

Hmm. Thank you for sharing that, IrIrvinee. And you know, the three together are potent, but even just asking one of them

Irvine (25:00):

Oh, absolutely, yes.

Bridgette (25:01):

Would get us, get us, uh, a pretty far place. Hmm. So what a great conversation. You know, the title was like, influence versus Authority. Where does our real power reside? And of course the answer is in both places. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, when you have authority, you do real power. And in and of itself, I think we’ve, we’ve uh, we’ve uncovered why it’s not sufficient to really move people that takes influence. Yes. And, you know, we can all get better at that. And I’ve, I’ve walked away with some things that I can be more mindful about. So thank you IrIrvinee.

Irvine (25:42):

Likewise.

Bridgette (25:43):

And now what do we, I think we know what we have on tap for our next episode, don’t we?

Irvine (25:49):

We do indeed. Uh, we are going to look at a metaphor, which is being a step down transformer. So hopefully that has you thinking, what would that be about? And really what we’re going to look at is a little of a continuation of influencing a system, but this time being able to take the anxiety of a system and to bring it down and not, or two, and being a calming influence.

Bridgette (26:19):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you know, we’ve touched on that in season one, but we have yet to devote an enTheurer episode to that. I can’t wait.

Irvine (26:28):

Likewise,

Bridgette (26:29):

Thank you everybody for tuning in. We look forward to you joining us next time. And IrIrvinee, it was a great conversation. Thank you.

Irvine (26:37):

Thank you, Bridgette. Have a great week.

Bridgette (26:39):

Bye-Bye.

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