You Can’t Influence Others Without Personal Authority

Many of us wonder how better to motivate and influence the people around us. It’s a question I am regularly asked by clients who want to lean in to their leadership, but who aren’t quite sure how to do it.

It is an important question, and the answer, I believe, is that people are most drawn to and influenced by a leader’s personal authority. If you want to be a great leader (not a bully) and bring out the best in others while being authentic to yourself, you will need to develop that personal authority. It is something a person can carry even if they are not in an obvious position of power; even if they don’t have situational authority over anyone. 

It’s not simple, but the first step, for nearly everyone, is to work from inside one’s self outward.

How it looks in practice

To help a client develop personal authority we often begin by looking at what they are passionate about and where they feel confident in their lives. Those are places and moments of authority, and they can then integrate that authority into their relationships with others.

A few years ago I worked with an introverted leader on this issue. Extroverts may find it easier at first to be influential, but research says introvert CEOs often have better results than extroverts. For this client, who was somewhat shy, we discussed some of her interests and passions outside of work. This client loved to cook and felt good about her abilities as a chef, so we talked about how she felt when she cooked. We also transferred that to work, and talked about where and when she felt most confident at her job. What did she love to do there? What was her personal style of working? What made her unique? Taking the time to consider and cultivate one’s personal talents and passions will lead a person to feel more personal authority. There’s much more to this, but it is this self-reflection on who we are, what we love, and what we want that begins to cultivate authority.

The next step—which can at first be more difficult for introverts—is to take external steps to bring that personal authority out into the world so that it can be seen by others. These steps will depend on the person, but there are also consistent ways to project personal authority and build connection. We can consider:

  • How you come into a room: are you entering with low energy or enthusiasm? Are you reaching out to others, or drawing inward?
  • Whether or not you speak out: Do you find opportunities to voice your opinion? Sometimes an introvert wants to process information alone before speaking up about what they’ve learned, but not speaking up in a meeting may mean your voice goes unheard. Introverts can solve this problem by voicing just that: “I’m not sure where I land yet, and I need to think on this before I decide.” 
  • Positioning and body language: Do you always stand up or stay seated? Do you maintain eye contact? Do you hold yourself with confidence? 

My client has worked hard in all of these areas, while frequently reminding herself of who she is and what matters to her. She feels now that she is being taken more seriously as an authority and as an inspiration.

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