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Change Without Authority

Authority makes it easier.  It’s easier to get things done when you can just tell others to do it.  Of course, few people can do that.  Few people can really order others to do anything without their eventual rebellion.  If you can’t order people to change, you’ll be like most of the rest of us as we try to influence others – with or without authority.

Influence Without Authority

My first highlight in the book Influence Without Authority is, “Nobody has ever had enough authority – they never have and they never will.”  In short, all of us work without sufficient authority.  That means that we must find other ways of accomplishing our goals.

Gandhi was a powerful man to be sure, but his power didn’t rest in his authority.  It rested in his determination and his ability to organize non-violent protests, which led to real and lasting change – freedom from British rule.  It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  You don’t need authority to accomplish change, you need determination.  You need what Jim Collins calls the Stockdale Paradox in Good to Great – unwavering faith and the ability to continue to listen.

If you’re in an environment where you have no authority and you believe that you can’t accomplish change, you have the ability to look for influence instead of authority.  With influence, you have the opportunity to develop a small, committed group that can indeed change the world – or at least change your organization.

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

Albert Hirschman wrote Exit, Voice, and Loyalty in 1970 speaking about how consumers could respond to deteriorating quality in the goods they were purchasing.  Later, he commented that these options – and a fourth – could be used in any situation.  You can exit the situation (leave your job), voice your concerns (complain), or remain loyal (persist).  The fourth option is neglect.  You could neglect your duties or your passions.  If you neglect your duties, you may be fired; if you neglect your passions, you may find yourself depressed.

Deciding which strategy you should employ is a personal decision based on your beliefs and experiences.  Great leaders often place the first three options on the table.  They exercise their voice, offer to exit, and remain loyal to the cause if not the situation.  Nelson Mandela could have expressed his anger for his previous imprisonment, but he chose to close his remarks at his next trial with, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Hopefully, you won’t have to offer to die.  There are, however, times when there are no-win situations at organizations, where your only option is to exit.  Before you go there, try your voice and see if there’s a way that you can still affect change without authority.

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