Authority vs. Influence (Becoming Inspired)



This blog article is generally intended for those that lead salespeople, but others may also find it interesting.


“It’s my way or the highway. You’re either with me or you’re not.”

“If it comes down to feeding my family or yours, I’m going to make sure my family eats.”

“I’m going to drive the machine and muscle the results.”

“It’s all about the numbers. Only the numbers will save your job.”

Just evoking the above statements for the sake of this article made my skin crawl. These assertions are the antithesis of my thought process on leading people. Have you heard gems like these come out of the mouth of a sales manager? Over my thirty-plus years in commission sales, even recently in this enlightened time, I’ve heard declarations like these. I’ve heard them more times than I care to admit.

Typically, newer sales managers, those drunk with their freshly minted power, utter these types of comments. Sometimes veteran sales managers, people that move from gig to gig every three to five years, behave in this manner. Sadly, they never build anything that endures, never develop a legacy. Whether these sentiments originate from new or veteran managers, these declarations are clear examples of uninspired leadership at its best.

I believe leadership gurus like John Maxwell, Peter Drucker or Zig Ziglar would have considered the proclamations listed above to be indicative of leaders who manage by authority versus legitimate leaders who choose to lead by influence. In other words, sales managers may have a title on their business card, one that affords them some degree of power and authority, but they have not developed trust, the kind of hard-earned currency that eventually leads to influence.

When a sales manager, (by choice or unintentionally) fails to invest the time necessary to forge a genuine bond with the people on their team, trust is absent from the relationship. When there is no trust, the leader has no ability to influence them. The manager can’t possibly inspire the team to think, feel or act in ways that move the needle and ensure sustained growth.

By the time this type of manager fully flexes their muscles and institutes this flawed style of leadership, they’ve already set the wheels in motion for a lone- wolf ecosystem in their organization. Every person begins to fend for him or herself versus acting collaboratively.

Of course, the inmates will eventually rebel after this pattern rears its ugly head and then the only tools that the supposed leader can utilize to regain control are threats or intimidation, or both. The only thing they can do is exercise their power or authority and this strategy is ALWAYS short term in its effectiveness, if it has any impact at all.

Typically—and humorously—the uninspired leader will have no idea what permanent damage they’re creating within their team’s psyche. In many cases the manager is so blocked off that they’re clueless to the problem, or so arrogant they don’t care what harm is being done. The emperor will truly have no clothes on by the end of this folly.

Without us going too much deeper, please allow me to ask you a question; would you rather lead by authority or influence? If you’re not sure about the right answer, you may want to research Malcolm Gladwell’s theories as outlined in his most recent book, David and Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. In his book, Gladwell references the work of Nathan Lietes and Charles Wolf, Jr. In 1970 they published a report commissioned by the RAND Corporation, which was formed by the military after World War II. Their report was called Rebellion and Authority and the report became a blueprint for the war in Vietnam.Gladwell reached a conclusion of what Lietes and Wolf believed. I’m paraphrasing:

…if you are in a position of power, you don’t have to worry about how subjects feel about what you are doing. You just have to be tough enough to make them think twice.

I believe that most people now understand what devastation occurred in Vietnam and how well this strategy worked there, however, Gladwell also utilized other examples of the misguided use of authority and power. He outlined how the British Army’s heavy-handed strategies during key periods of the bloody conflict in Northern Ireland, (simpatico with Rebellion and Authority) served only to worsen the conditions for all parties for many years to come.

Gladwell’s book also described how some teachers manage classrooms of young children. The observations detailed were part of a videotaped study by the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. One well-intentioned teacher turned eager students into an unruly bunch with her detached behavior. Another teacher exercised her authority in a manner classic to Leites and Wolf’s study. The subject third grader became angry and disillusioned because his punishment was arbitrary and he couldn’t speak up, use his voice and give his own side of the story.

The deduction is that when people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters—first and foremost—how they behave. The examples above illustrate how a leader’s behavior can actually promote disobedience or a lack of engagement. The examples clearly show that title or authority alone rarely makes an organizational situation function better. If you think about it Leites and Wolf actually had it backwards.

…it does matter what people you have authority over think and feel about you!

If you are a sales manager, you certainly have the power and authority to do just about anything you wish, but are you making the right choice, the choice to become an inspired leader? If a leader is acting in an uninspired manner and wielding authority versus earning trust, then they must recognize the three vital factors that have to be put back into play to reverse the situation:

#1 Sales people have to feel like they have a voice. They must feel that they can sit down with leadership and express their opinions. They also have to know that their views will matter.

#2 Expectations communicated by management must be reasonable and consistent. The objectives have to be attainable and the bar can’t be constantly moved.

#3 The leader has to be fair. They can’t treat one person or a group different than another.

A truly inspired leader recognizes that their behavior coupled with how their organization feels about them, IS important

I’m currently coaching a handful of high-level sales leaders. When I ask them what they intend to build, the vast majority respond by saying they intend to build a large organization. They say it in different ways, but the word organization always surfaces in their responses. Let’s understand that word’s meaning. Webster’s dictionary suggests that an organization is…

…a related group of people that have a collective goal

If we peel another layer off the onion, we find that the word organization comes from the shorter Latin root words organ or organism and this suggests that an organism is a form of LIFE. Your organization is actually a living-breathing thing, NOT a MACHINE to be muscled or an inanimate object to be driven. Your organization, if living, would need to be nurtured. If you follow this logical path, you must then decide how to properly care for and feed the living-breathing thing, enough so that it grows to meet your stated goals. Here are the pertinent questions we need to ask:

Do you know how your group feels about you?
Are you aware of how they feel about their immediate opportunity?
What they are thinking about their future with your company?
Some uninspired leaders may say,” Who cares how they feel about those things? Why would that be important if I’m getting what I want out of the deal and I’m hitting my numbers?” The answer is…

…it’s NOT important if you don’t care what SUSTAINABILITY your current leadership model has!

Anything that is living and breathing needs nourishment. Plants need good soil, some sunshine and a little water. People need inspiration, encouragement and occasional praise. If you try to grow a plant on rocky soil, give it no water and keep it in darkness it may live for a while, but eventually, it will die. You’ll have to replace it with a younger plant and repeat the process.

When you don’t spend time understanding what drives and inspires your salespeople,  it’s as if you’ve planted them on shallow, rocky soil. If you threaten people, using your title and authority, it’s the same as keeping them in abject darkness. If you deny them praise and recognition, it’s as if you are withholding life saving water. Like a starved plant, the salesperson will die, (in this case go away) and you’ll have to start over with a new candidate. How does that make sense for the long term?

If your organization has feelings you will INFLUENCE it to feel a certain way based on your attitudes towards it.

If you’re constantly flexing your title and authority and not working hard to build trust and influence, can you imagine how your team will feel about you, the company and their future? If they feel negatively about those things then we must ask these logical questions…

How will their demoralized spirits reflect in production numbers?
How will pervasive low morale reflect in retention of salespeople?
When we lead an army of volunteers, we must acknowledge that we are in the persuasion-motivation business

To persuade and motivate people, you have to know them. This takes work and it requires that you open yourself up to them. This is not a natural process for many people, but if you’re truly committed to being a great leader, you’ll have to develop these abilities.

You will also need to know that if you’re not sincere about your relationships they’ll figure you out. They won’t trust you and you will have no other instrument to manage them by but that stupid little title on your business card. Your title may work initially, but it doesn’t work long term, especially if you are leading independent sales people. And guess what…it doesn’t even work when you’re managing employees!

Address these additional questions:

How does authority and intimidation motivate a person?
How inspired is a person who’s looking over their shoulder?
How eager are people to work for someone they don’t trust?
Here are the most important questions you will need to ponder:

What’s driving you in your current position?
Why did you accept your sales manager position?
What is your primary purpose for building a sales team?
If you are a sales leader, you should ask yourself these critical questions, but please allow me to make this easy for you. If your reasons for accepting a sales leadership position didn’t at least include the desire to have a positive and inspirational impact on other people’s lives, then you’re in the wrong place. Hopefully that’s not the case.

If a leader asks these questions and is honest with himself/herself,  they can confirm that they are either on the right track or possibly need to refine their thoughts. Their answers will lead them to know what they’ll need to do next to reach the level we refer to as “inspirational leader”.

It took me a while to figure this all out. I was several years into recruiting, training and managing people before I learned that you have to sincerely want what’s best for them to get everything you want out of the business. And you can’t fake it! When I did realign my philosophies to conform with an inspired leadership stance, my income rose dramatically and it became easier to attract and retain the right kind of people.

Decide to become a person of influence. Do this not only because your income will rise, but also do it because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s also a lot more fun!

If you are a leader, then resist the urge to wield authority, to threaten a person you are leading. Instead, just ask them how they are feeling and if they have any opinions about the direction of the organization. These simple questions will transform the conversation and immediately alter the way they feel about you. You can instantly begin to build trust.

Are you leading by authority, by the title on your business card, or are you leading by influence, becoming an inspired leader? Make sure you are on the path to build a legacy team and become known as inspirational to the people you are responsible for.

If you do this, you’ll become wealthy in more ways than money, I can personally assure you of that.

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2 comments on “Authority vs. Influence (Becoming Inspired)”

  1. Pingback: They Won’t Help You if They Don’t Like You! | The CAP Equation

  2. Pingback: Why Getting on “THE SAME PAGE” is so Vital for Team Success | The CAP Equation

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