Leadership Influence: 6 Tactics to Move Past Positional Authority


Struggling to connect with your team? Learn how to move past positional authority with these 6 key tactics for relational leadership.

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“You can’t lead from an an accepted and established position until you’re accepted and established in the position.”
– Gavin Adams

The Common Challenge of Influence

The more I’m around leaders, the more I notice a common challenge.

This is especially true for newer leaders — new as in leadership maturity or new to a team, organization, or church.

Leaders need influence to lead. As John Maxwell taught us all, leadership is influence. Without influence, we cannot move people or processes forward.

The question is how to gain influence best.

Gaining Influence in a Changing World

I suspect the accepted approach to leadership changes with generations and cultures. Leaders require followers. To best gain influence with followers, a leader must adjust to the aggregate needs of the team. 

Not to oversimplify it, but to gain influence, leaders tend to rely on either:

  1. Positional Authority
  2. Relational Influence

Positional Authority

Leveraging your position to force influence is easy but only effective in the short term. Think of it like the good old parent statement, “Because I said so!”

When a parent only leverages positional authority to direct a child, their maturity is stymied while their frustration grows. We’ve seen these kids. Perhaps you were one of these kids. Children who grow up in a “because I said so” environment often do what is asked when the parent is around. But as we’ve all experienced, the mice will play when the cat is away.

Positional influence may change behaviors, but it never captures hearts. People follow positional leaders out of fear and force. This gets the job done, but it leaves people in a state of distrust.

On the other hand…

Relational Influence

Leaders who take the time and expend the energy to gain relational influence get the job done while building a culture and team more significant than the sum of its parts.

Trust is the currency of teams. When trust abounds, the foundation is set for exponential mission and team success. The trouble with positional authority is that it erodes trust rather than builds it. When a leader takes the time to connect with those they lead, they begin building a relational foundation of influence.

It takes more time, but relationships always work better than positions.

6 Tactics To Gain Relational Influence

Growing your relational influence works best with a plan and some time.

1. Get to Know Your Team Individually

You can’t grow your relationship with people if you don’t spend time with them individually. I’m not talking about going to a team-building event at a ropes course here. You can do that if you’d like, but influence is built one person at a time. So, you’ve got to spend time with individual team members.

2. Establish a One-On-One Schedule

Relational leaders don’t relegate individual meetings to happenstance occurrences. If you want to grow your relational influence, you need a system. The best method to meet one-on-one with your team members is to schedule one-on-one meetings once or twice a month. Trust me if this feels like a new idea; your team members long for this connection.

When I interviewed Cheryl Bachelder for Big Shoes To Fill,” she talked extensively about the importance of these meetings. When she arrived at Popeyes as the new CEO, she told the directors they had to spend 30% of their time in one-on-one meetings with their direct reports.

“If you don’t know your people, you can’t lead your people.”
– Cheryl Bachelder

3. Create a “Cross Departmental Board”

Dave Katz talked with me about this during our interview. When he became the President and COO of Coca-Cola Consolidated, Katz gathered employees from throughout the organization to function as a sounding board. While they had no real organizational authority, they had his ear and heart. Over time, this “board” began trusting Katz more and more while offering better and better feedback on the culture, opportunities, and obstacles.

You can do this, too. Or some version of this. While you must meet with your direct reports on an ongoing basis, don’t ignore those other individuals further down the org chart.

4. All The Team to Know You

One of the most overlooked elements of gaining trust is the vulnerability and openness of the leader. Leaders set the pace and tone for everything in the organization. This includes openness, honesty, and vulnerability. If you can’t allow yourself to be known, neither will anyone on your team.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting mass counseling sessions. You shouldn’t feel compelled to share your darkest sins. But you should share your story. How did you get to where you are? When have you stumbled? What have you gotten right? What did you not get right?

Sharing your story with honesty and humility helps the team know you, opening themselves up to be known by you.

5. Schedule “Relational” Time

In addition to your one-on-ones, build time in your schedule to walk slowly through the halls. Stop into offices just for a chat. Hang out in the break room to engage with the team. A leader secluded in their office is a leader relationally disconnected from those they’re attempting to lead.

It’s so easy to isolate as a leader. There’s so much to do and too little time to do it. Our leadership tasks will hedge out our people if we aren’t careful. Just remember, leadership is about a lot of things, but they all happen in, with, and through people.

6. Be Available

Finally, we cannot expect to gain relational influence if we’re not around and available to participate in the relationship. This is more challenging for some leaders than others. If you’re a multisite church pastor, it’s critical to be present at all of your campuses from time to time. In the marketplace, the same is true. Departments and divisions need to see you and hear from you. You must be available to some extent.

I talk extensively about this and take the conversation much further (with even more practical and tactical suggestions) in the book. Order your copy today. And don’t forget to pick up all the FREE BONUS CONTENT available HERE.