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How to Influence without Authority?

By Jayshree Kirtane – Executive Director at Alchemy Management Consultancy

Today, in product management, traditional hierarchies in organizations are often ignored and the ability to influence without authority has become a very important skill for product managers to have. Mastering the skill of influencing others, be it in your organization, project or team, is very essential, especially for aspiring product leaders. This brings us to the question, how do you influence without authority?

Key Takeaways:

  • People are more likely to listen to and follow product managers and leaders who demonstrate proficiency and competence in the subject matter at hand.
  • Understanding what motivates people on a personal level and connecting with them in their language can be useful in inspiring action.
  • Product managers should learn the skill of being politically savvy, which is about understanding the politics at the workplace and navigating them effectively.
  • It is important for product managers to have a purpose in the organization which is higher than themselves.
  • There are typically 5 levels at which we operate when we are communicating with each other- environmental, action, capability and beliefs and values level.
  • According to the Tao of Leadership, the best leaders value their words and use them sparingly.
In this article
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    1. Expertise

    The first one is expertise. A lot of times, psychologists are accused of ignoring the technical aspects of any leadership. People often complain that they only talk about the right brain side aspects, but the left brain side is equally important. Whenever you are supposed to be leading a particular task or a task force or a team, unless you are an expert in it, your credibility at the first instance itself takes a back seat and it is slashed if people do not see you as an expert. So being technically expert at a certain level is important.

    2. Inspiring others

    The second one now is something which is used as a phrase- inspire others. Where do you think inspiration comes from? People spend a lot of time debating whether inspiration comes from within, can someone else inspire you and so on. But the fact is that when we are trying to deal with people, they have their own individual aspirations, goals and vision as to where they want to go in life. They also have their own methods of going where they want to go in life. This is also about talking to people in their own language and connecting to the way a particular person’s mind works. Otherwise if youre talking on two different communication foundations, all that alignment of vision only remains on paper and nothing concrete will happen. Although it’s a very simplistic looking model, it actually talks about deep rooted values or things that we hold very close to our heart. If we can figure out what is it that we value and what is it that the other person values, then we have a possibility of coming to the same communication platform.

    3. Being politically savvy

    Very technical people and simple people would say if there were no politics in the workplace it would be so great for everyone. But let’s face it, it is there in every workplace. As product managers, you should realize that being politically savvy is not being manipulative. We are not talking about pushing your own agenda. But we are talking about knowing the whole game of politics in the workplace and its players. You should know that if you want to be a part of the organization’s politics, you can be. That is the quadrant in which we need to find ourselves. You must know who are the influencers in that entire scheme of things. So you must know what inspires them, what will connect you to them, and you must also know how to pull the right strings at the right time so that things happen.

    4. Purpose

    Purpose behind your action is very important. If your purpose is to get something for myself, then it comes manipulative. But if the purpose is a larger purpose which is beyond self and towards the organizational benefit then it becomes politically savvy. So why we are doing what we are doing would largely determine whether we are politically savvy or manipulative.

    5. Logical levels in neurolinguistic programming

    There are typically the following levels at which we operate when we are communicating with each other.

    (i) Environmental level: 

    If you ask someone why they did or did not do a particular task, often the answer would be blaming something or someone else. So these are environmental levels, which are beyond self. This is a great tool especially when you are managing and resolving conflicts. 

    (ii) Action level: 

    Most conflict happens at an action level. Any action can be done in many different ways. 

    (iii) Capability level: 

    It commonly happens that sometimes we think that we are telling a person to do something in a particular way, and again and again he makes mistakes. We need to pause and ask if he is capable of delivering the same. So the competence comes to play at the capability level. 

    (iv) Beliefs and values level: 

    “I cannot do it”, or “I will definitely deliver it” are all beliefs. Beliefs and values are how you define your identity.

    Most conflicts happen at the behavioral level but we try to solve them at action level. But if we are able to elevate ourselves a couple of levels above the level of conflict, we will be able to resolve it much faster. This can be called chunk it up or chunk it down. When we elevate our cells it is called chunking up and when we bring it down it’s called chunking down. 

    All of you must have been part of meetings where there is so much conflict that is happening at an action level. If the environment is heated up like that, if you just take a moment’s pause, step back, think for yourself and ask this question to the audience or the people who are there in the room- what are we all here for? If we are all here for customer success, then you have already chunked up from the action to the beliefs and values. If you chunk it up, the entire conflict is resolved at the higher level. Nobody in the room will be able to say that they are not there for customer success. If you’re actually talking to the customer then the identity of your organization in terms of why you all exist comes up. If you take it to that level, conflict is dissolved at that level. So chunk it up to dissolve the conflict but you cannot remain there forever. You need to bring it down from identity or beliefs or wherever you have elevated your pitch to behavior.

    6. The Tao of Leadership

    The best leaders are those that people hardly know exist. The next best is the leader who is loved and praised. Recently we have been undermining love and affection in respecting leadership. But more than command and respect it is love that finally inspires people to do much more than what is expected of them. 

    Next best leader is the one who is feared. The worst is the leader that is despised. The best leaders value their words and use them sparingly. By valuing their words and leading by example, they inspire loyalty and dedication in those around them, ultimately achieving more than could be attained through command and control.

    Hence, influencing without authority is not about imposing power and control. It is about utilizing skills to foster healthy communication in your team, building trust and ensuring that your interests align with the interests of the people involved. Aspiring product managers should utilize skills like expertise, being politically savvy, inspiring others, logical levels of neurolinguistic programming and the Tao of leadership to successfully build influence over others without authority.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Influence without authority involves utilizing skills to foster healthy communication in your team, building trust and ensuring that your interests align with the interests of the people involved. It does not involve imposing power and control.

    Influencing without authority helps ensure you as a product manager that people are on the same page as yours and do not feel threatened by imposing control. In the long run, it helps make positive changes in your team or organization.

    Yes, a leader can have informal power over people without traditional authority. But the followers should be happy to follow it. More than command and respect it is love that finally inspires people to do much more than what is expected of them. By valuing their words and leading by example, these leaders inspire loyalty and dedication in those around them.

    The main levels of neurolinguistic programming are environment, action, beliefs and values, and capability.

    As product managers, you should realize that being politically savvy is not the same as being manipulative. It does not include pushing your own agenda. You must know what inspires the people in your team, what will connect you to them, and you must also know how to pull the right strings at the right time so that things happen in the collective goals of the organization.

    About the Author:

    Jayshree Kirtane – Executive Director at Alchemy Management Consultancy

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