Influence: Leading When You Are Not in Charge

Influence: Leading When You Are Not in Charge

COVID-19 is a test lab for influence.  We watch it play out on the nightly news.  Who has the most influence?  The President? Governors? Doctors? What should we do? How fast should we do it?  We keep hoping that someone will step up, bring people together, build a plan to keep us safe, and chart a way forward.

And, as a result, millions are facing the same challenges at home, in the market-place and where they work.  How long will this last? Should we stay open? Close down? Pay the rent? Get a loan?

In the school business we frantically search for ways to serve lunch, provide daycare, and teach remotely while keeping everyone safe and reassuring our staff, students and community that all will be well and we are there for them.


There’s a word for that.  VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.  It came out of post-Cold War military encounters.  Increasingly it describes our everyday life.

Formal positions of authority have more responsibility and less power than ever.  Middle managers strive to lead from the middle while taking input/orders from the top, from the bottom, and from those in between.

Needed are more leaders of influence, those with or without formal power, who can bring us together in common cause to solve VUCA problems.

Influence.  What is it? How do you learn it?

“Leadership,” to paraphrase President Eisenhower, “is getting others to do something … because they want to do it.”

“Influence is changing the heart; power is forcing people to change.” – You’re IT!

Influence beyond authority

Influencers step up!

They see the need.  Even when they don’t have the answer or the power, they call people together.  They have the courage to call the meeting, to get things started.  “They engage people to do and accomplish far more than they otherwise would have dreamed” (You’re IT).

Influencers step back! 

They seek first to understand. Get perspective. See the big picture, the trends, the obstacles.  They look for common values, shared interests, mutual success.  They ask, and listen.  They find out what really matters most. This is not about getting what they want. It’s about finding collectively what we want to accomplish together.

Influencers step down!

This isn’t about them.  They check their ego at the door. This is about building a team, a coalition.  They speak last, paraphrase, give credit to others.  They believe in the power of the group.  They forge a coalition.  They balance risks and rewards.  Finding support for a 70 percent solution is better than finding a 100 percent solution that goes nowhere.

Influencers step across!

Across silos, aisles, barriers.  They reach out to make connections with any and all who can help.  They build relationships.  Earn trust.  Find common values and interests.  Find out what each needs for success.  Helps everyone get more of what they need and want.  Seeks mutual success.

Influencers step in it!

Leading isn’t for the cautious.  Bringing disparate groups together is a challenge.  Being vulnerable, admitting what you don’t know, admitting mistakes, increases trust and influence.  Be authentic.  “We may impress with strengths but we connect through our weaknesses.”  – Chris Groeschel

Influencers step out!

They get people involved.  Float options, avoid polarities.  Find common cause and take action. Crystalize the shared vision that brings people together.    They may start small but they get people involved, engaged and taking action.  People support the things that they help create. Small wins build momentum and confidence.

It’s about courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.  – Brené Brown


  • Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown  
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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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