In most organizations you have to know how to get things done by working with others. There are often times where you don’t have direct authority for a team or a budget, but you are accountable for the outcome of the project. Most companies focus on teaching the skill how to influence without authority in these situations. The emphasis is learning what is important to your stakeholders and demonstrating how you can bring that value to them. I have taught and trained on this concept many times over the years and do believe that learning how to navigate organizations and relationships is essential. But I recently asked myself, why do we call it influence without authority and how are we inherently framing up relationships with that language? The definition of influence is “the act or power of producing an effect without the direct exercise of command.” Synonyms for influence include impact, determine, guide, and control. Now contrast that with the definition for motivate, which is “to stimulate (someone’s) interest in or enthusiasm for doing something.” Synonyms for motivate include inspire, stimulate, encourage, and excite. I’d like to coin a new phrase and discussion about how to get work done in organizations: Motivate without authority. In this definition the emphasis is on connecting to the customer, embracing autonomy vs. authority, and inspiring through your actions.
Connecting to the customer. Engagement surveys over the last three decades have shown that meaningful work is the single most important element to employees. Purpose is a huge intrinsic driver and one of the most powerful ways to create meaning is to connect people with the end user. At Deere & Company, farmers who buy tractors are invited to visit the factories with their families. Assembly line employees are then invited to meet the farmers, hand them their tractor key, and watch them start their tractors for the first time. Olive Garden restaurant managers regularly share letters from customers with their teams and thank them for creating a great guest experience. Instead of influencing your team, show them how the new project/process you are talking about will meet the customer’s needs and drive meaningful work.
Embrace autonomy vs. authority. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but most of us have very little authority over others. But instead of bemoaning that fact, how can we embrace autonomy? Appreciate the reality that each group you want to motivate likely has different, perhaps competing, schedules, priorities, and resources. Instead of trying to control the outcomes, think about how building trust can make your team much more efficient. Often our desire for authority comes from a lack of trust. Ask yourself if you trust the team, then ask yourself if others can/should trust you based on your behaviors. Reflect on your motives and competencies and see if/how they might be impacting your team dynamics. Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust offers a list of 13 behaviors that can build or erode trust and provide some great ideas on how to motivate without authority.
Inspiring through your actions. Forbes conducted an interesting research project. They looked at a list of the 1,000 most inspiring leaders and analyzed how they inspire those around them. They came up with a list of six different skills used by these inspiring leaders:
- Visionary—providing a clear picture of the future and being able to communicate that to the team.
- Enhancing—creating positive one-on-one relationships along with team relationships by being a great listener and connecting emotionally with people.
- Driver—displaying a focused pursuit to make the numbers and complete things on time and generally being accountable for personal and group performance.
- Principled—providing a powerful role model of doing the right things in the right way.
- Enthusiast—exuding passion and energy about the organization, its goals and the work itself.
- Expert—providing a strong technical direction that comes from deep expertise.
I think the two skills that are most often overlooked on this list are being principled and leveraging your expertise. Many people inspire through their vision and their enthusiasm, but it is equally impactful to motivate others by showing in your actions that you are principled and have a valuable expertise. Whatever your natural style is, show your team that you are authentic and that you are committed. They will not only be influenced, they will be inspired.
Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” I believe we grow commitment not through influence or authority, but through motivation. By connecting teams to the customer, embracing their autonomy, and inspiring others through our actions, we can motivate others without authority and build lasting commitment.