Guiding with Influence Over Authority

As the deputy head of teaching and learning at New Bedford Public Schools, I aimed to visit a different school daily. I frequently find myself in multiple schools on most days. When school administrators or teachers spot a central office executive enter, it’s not for monitoring but to foster collaboration. My objective is to support and work alongside school leaders and educators, witness learning in progress, and actively engage in the educational process.

The more I familiarize myself with a school, its faculty, and students, the greater impact I can make. Establishing a physical presence is pivotal in building trust, which forms the basis for a productive partnership. During my tenure as a building principal and now as the assistant superintendent, I strived to establish rapport with educators to communicate my vision effectively, fostering trust and robust professional connections. Unfortunately, this was not the case during my initial year as a principal.

In Search of Enhanced Leadership

In my early years as a principal, my leadership style centered around authority, often resorting to the use of position power, which proved to be ineffective. Relying on positional authority was more a reflection of my insecurities than a means to generate impact. A colleague’s advice on “leading by influence” resonated with me as true leadership hinges on influence rather than authority.

Exercising authority entails imposing control and making decisions based on the hierarchical power vested in a specific role within an organization. In this paradigm, leaders leverage their formal authority, such as their title or rank, to direct and govern the actions of others. It typically involves issuing directives, enforcing them, and making unilateral decisions with minimal input from staff members.

This leadership model emphasizes adherence and compliance with established protocols and procedures. The use of rewards and punishments (as noted by author Daniel Pink in his book Drive, likened to “carrots and sticks”) may be employed to incentivize behavior and ensure order within the educational institution. While leading by authority proves pragmatic in certain contexts, such as emergencies or exigent decision-making scenarios, its overuse can evoke dissatisfaction, resistance, and disengagement among staff if not wielded judiciously.

Conversely, leading by influence entails guiding and inspiring others through personal actions, ideas, and values, rather than solely relying on formal authority or position. This involves cultivating robust relationships, credibility, and trust, prompting others to willingly align with your leadership. Influence-based leadership prioritizes persuasion, collaboration, and empowerment over issuing directives or enforcing compliance. This approach often leads to more sustainable and meaningful change by appealing to individuals’ intrinsic motivations and commitments rather than solely their compliance.

9 Effective Tactics for Leading by Influence

1. Maintain visibility. A leader’s visibility within a school is vital as it nurtures trust, fosters relationships, and bolsters communication among students, faculty, and parents. It showcases dedication, enables real-time issue resolution, and cultivates a positive school environment. By being present and accessible, leaders ensure a supportive and efficient learning atmosphere. Enhance visibility by routinely visiting classrooms, partaking in school events, engaging in hallway interactions, and offering open office hours.

2. Foster robust relationships. Heightened visibility creates opportunities to establish enduring relationships. Invest time in personally connecting with team members, expressing genuine interest in their welfare, concerns, and aspirations. When individuals feel valued and understood, they are more receptive to your ideas and leadership direction.

3. Lead through actions. Set an example by embodying the behavior and values you wish others to mirror. Actions resonate louder than words, so strive to exemplify integrity, accountability, and commitment in all endeavors. Consistently modeling the behavior you expect encourages others to emulate your actions.

4. Embrace authenticity. Authentic leadership cultivates a positive school culture, fosters transparent communication, and exemplifies integrity and openness. Authentic leaders inspire others, create a supportive environment, address challenges effectively, and drive positive transformations.

5. Communicate effectively. Master the art of communication by actively listening, articulating ideas clearly, and presenting them effectively. Tailor your message to resonate with your staff and remain open to feedback and dialogue. Effective communication enhances understanding, builds trust, and amplifies your ability to influence others.

6. Empower and nurture others. Create avenues for growth and development within your team. Delegate tasks, offer guidance and support, and encourage autonomy and initiative. Empowering team members enhances their skills and confidence, instills a sense of ownership and commitment, and aligns everyone toward shared objectives.

7. Pursue agreement. Rather than asserting positional authority, seek common ground and consensus among team members. Involve others in decision-making processes, solicit their inputs and viewpoints, and consider diverse perspectives before finalizing decisions. Collaboration and inclusivity foster commitment and alignment from all stakeholders.

8. Inspire through a vision. Outline a compelling vision that motivates and excites others to action. Clearly articulate the vision’s purpose, objectives, and advantages, emphasizing how each individual contributes to its realization. A captivating vision instills a shared purpose and direction, rallying individuals around a common mission.

9. Adapt and remain flexible. Acknowledge that influence varies based on situations and personalities, adapting your approach accordingly. Flexibility in leadership, coupled with a willingness to experiment, learn, and adjust based on feedback and outcomes, showcases agility and responsiveness, augmenting your credibility and effectiveness as a leader.

By implementing these tactics, you can effectively lead through influence, inspiration, and guidance, propelling others to attain collective goals and ambitions.

Leadership through influence is imperative as it nurtures collaboration and teamwork by prioritizing relationships and mutual respect. Rather than solely relying on authority or coercion, leaders who lead through influence inspire collaboration toward shared objectives, leveraging the combined strengths of the team.

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