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Why Influence Beats Authority

        posted by , February 20, 2013

You will respect my authority! You will read this article!

Authority is a social, political and business structure that grants an individual rights to make decisions and give orders. Authority is how the world goes around. It's the basis for government and many businesses, families, etc.

Influence is an equally common and powerful phenomenon that relies on nothing more than words and relationships.

Definitions: Authority vs Influence

Authority is the power or right to give orders and make decisions.

Influence is the ability to affect ideas and actions.


Authority is more concrete and obvious than influence. It's often assumed to be far more important to business results. However, influence has several advantages over authority.

Influence beats authority in four ways:


1. Authority is a Power, Influence is an Ability

You can give any blockhead power. Authority requires no particular skillset or ability. Take a look at the dictators of past and present, not exactly an inspiring bunch.

Influence on the other hand, is challenging. It's not an ability many people have fully mastered. It requires emotional intelligence and general intelligence.

The fact that influencers need to be intelligent (hopefully) translates to better ideas and better direction.


2. Authority is Expensive, Influence is Cheap

You need to pay for authority. In the context of a company, authority is established by paying salary and bonuses. This is known as transactional authority. When you're paying someone they're expected to do as you ask (within reason).

If a director has 90 people reporting to him/her, that's 90 salaries, 90 bonuses, 90 benefits packages, 90 desks etc .... The director's authority might cost a company in access of $20 million per annum. That's the price of authority.

Governments must also pay for their authority. For example, they must maintain a military, police force, tax system and other institutions that enforce sovereign authority.

Influence is often free. It's the result of words and relationships.


3. Authority is Resisted, Influence is Accepted

If you're going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use both feet.

~ Keith Richards
By definition, influence is when others accept your ideas or direction. It means that people have internalized your message. They believe it. They might even be excited about it.

Authority implies no such acceptance. If your boss tells you to flip a burger, you do it because you don't want to be fired. Your not necessarily excited about it. You don't necessarily accept that flipping burgers is a great idea.

The fact that authority's decisions and direction isn't necessarily accepted means that it's often resisted. Resistance to authority is as common as ants at a picnic.

If you secretly resent burger flipping you may flip them slowly. You may flip them the wrong way.

We've all seen people obstruct change and sabotage initiatives, this is often a result of reactance or resistance to authority.


4. Authority is Obvious, Influence is Mysterious

Authority relies on clearly drawn lines. Influence relies on less visible relationships.

Let's say you're President of the United States. That's a lot of authority. However, Presidents still find that they must influence a great number of people to realize their programs and agendas.

Behind the scenes, a President may have advisors and supporters who helped him or her get elected. They may exercise great influence — that influence is far less visible than the President's authority.

Influence is a little mysterious.

This post is an installment in the ongoing series called how to win at leadership


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