Can leaders influence without authority? …Hardly.

Can leaders influence without authority? …Hardly.

Written By Jeffrey Gitomer

KING OF SALES, The author of seventeen best-selling books including The Sales Bible, The Little Red Book of Selling, and The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude. His live coaching program, Sales Mastery, is available at

I just read this quote: “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”
WHAT? Eh, not quite.

It’s sounds good when you first hear it, but it’s not only completely without merit, it’s also downright dangerous.

The quote should say, “One of the MANY keys to successful leadership today is influence.” It bugs me when someone attempts wisdom, and it flies in the face of logic, emotion, and especially reality.

If you think a leader can lead with no authority to lead, re-think that immediately. Imagine a person of great influence standing outside a major corporation, but not having a job at the company, let alone a position of authority. Would anyone take action? Would anyone follow that guy? Would anyone even listen?

The “influencer with no authority” would probably get his biggest chance telling it to the judge after being hauled off by security.

Same in government. Can you imagine a person of influence trying to lead, manage or vote on an issue with no authority? Not gonna EVER happen.

REALITY: There is no “key” to successful leadership. Short quotes like that are not only misinforming, they’re downright dangerous, unless you are already a leader, and already have authority. The authority to influence.

REALITY: There is no one key to leadership. You need a fat set of keys that includes BOTH authority and influence. And anyone who tells you differently is trying to exert their influence, without an ounce of authority.

Here are the elements, totally based on authority, that give real leaders the ability to influence:

  • Respect. If respect for the leader is lost, the power of influence AND authority are weak at the foundation of any mission. Leaders make the mistake of commanding respect when, in fact, respect is earned.
  • Clarity of message. If leaders are to be followed, it starts with clarity of message.
  • Positive attitude that sets an example for others to adopt. Attitude is THE fundamental element that creates a path for all leaders to succeed, not just influence.
  • Ability to motivate. Creating the desire of the team to perform at top level. Real leaders create that drive for the person first, the mission second, and the leader last.
  • Ability to inspire. The difference between motivation and inspiration is that motivation must constantly be injected. Inspiration lasts a lifetime. Great leaders can instill both.
  • Ability to strategize. Well-founded strategies are eagerly accepted by your team. They make sense and they seem doable.
  • Ability to plan, and plan B. After strategy is decided, plans (and alternate plans) are drawn to achieve the strategy. Plan B is also created to assure no loss of forward momentum in case there’s an unexpected shift or change.
  • Reputation. Not just a “great guy” or a “take charge” person, rather someone “known” as a great leader and has earned the respect of his people and his community (also could be her).
  • Resilience. One of the least understood, and possibly the element that carries the most “success weight” is resilience. A leaders ability to take it, and give it back, or bounce back from whatever situation arises. An influential leader with low or no resilience, will not be in that position very long.
  • Past experience. A history of both success and failure that has provided the knowledge and wisdom to lead in the present.
  • Persuasion. A higher form of influence. Persuasion occurs when trust and confidence meet belief, risk tolerance, and safety.
  • Stature. Leaders must stand tall and be recognized for their posture, confidence and poise.
  • Character. The elements that build the profile. Character is possessed (or lost) by consistently “doing the right and the best thing.” Character plays a major role in a leader’s ability to influence. Great character is molded over time.
  • Image. Actions, results, and reputation combine to form image.
  • Ethics. This element of leadership determines reputation. Great leaders operate at and with the highest ethical standards.
  • By example. As a business leader, business person, and entrepreneur myself for more than 40 years, I have ALWAYS set the example by “doing” rather than “telling” or “demanding.” Don’t tell me what to do, show me how it’s done.
  • Tolerance of risk. Great leaders have a high risk tolerance, and a sense to know when to take a calculated one.
  • Ability to get along with others. I believe that “likeability” plays a major role in a leader’s ability to create productivity and achievement.
  • Courage. The intestinal fortitude to withstand all adversity, and the resilience to react, respond, and recover on the way to accomplishment, achievement, and victory.
  • Ability to achieve. Great leaders are not just respected; they’re also measured. They have the responsibility to achieve, and their effectiveness is measured against their charged tasks and goals.
  • Ability to withstand failure. A major part of resilience, failure must serve as a lesson, and an opportunity to grow. Sure there is disappointment, sometimes anger – but leadership does not rest on a single event. All great leaders have encountered, withstood, endured, and recovered from defeat – much wiser, and much more steadfast of purpose.
  • Ability to celebrate victory. Everyone wants to celebrate a victory. Real leaders know how to create genuine celebration AND recognition of all those who participated. They also know how to temper it, and use it as a springboard for the next task at hand.
  • Reputation. Everything discussed above creates and forms a leader’s reputation. Reputation creates the ability to attract and the desire for others to follow. And reputation often arrives on the scene way before the leader does.

Including authority and the ability to influence, I have just given you 25 vital characteristics of leadership and the ability to lead. No single characteristic holds the magic. But together they are the keys to become a dominant leader when each of them is mastered.


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