Throughout the generations, leaders used many ways to convince people to do their biddings. Some reigned through fear and terror. Others bribed people into submission, and others used their compassion and empathy to make people follow their steps. No matter the means, these people always strived for one thing – authority. In the contemporary workspace, it’s still important – not as a way to impose your will on the others, but as a way to sell your ideas and be regarded as a reliable and trustworthy leader.
What is Authority?
It may be a bit cliche, but let’s start with the Merriam-Webster definition of authority: the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior. This brief description of authority tells us everything we need to know about it. In the contemporary workplace, we strive to inspire people, and influence them with arguments and vision, instead of just forcing them to work over products or programs the company has in the pipeline right now.
In Agile, this change goes even further. Nick van Zuijlen, Senior Consultant Transformation in Capgemini, describes the authority in this approach as sharing your power with others:
Re-evaluating team authority and responsibility means giving teams the authority to make relevant decisions that affect the implementation of their day-to-day activities. In other words, treat grown-ups like grown-ups. Give team members the power to decide without having to ask someone higher up for permission. In practice, this means that the teams have the authority to prioritize feature changes in products. Alternatively, the developers talk directly with architects and product owners to understand the customer’s needs.
As Ziujlen emphasizes, this change of focus fosters freedom and autonomy, one of the key factors to motivate people. The other factors are mastery and purpose. Autonomy is about the ability to control your life, decisions, and work.
Re-thinking responsibility involves moving away from traditional top-down authority patterns and putting the authority at the place closest to the customer in the value chain. Move away from the traditional top-down hierarchy. Set teamwork up in non-traditional ways in which fast reaction times and feedback loops are priorities that enhance the customer experience – writes Zuijlen in a truly Agile fashion.
Agile approach marks the end of an era, where all shots were called by one person. Authority lies in people and teams, that are closest to the matter.
The difference between online and offline authority
Authority isn’t only about managing your team workflow but also about building your reputation outside the company. Look at it as a way to be recognized as an expert in your field. You got a grip, people in your team know that, but you can also present this knowledge to others. This way you build your brand and your company’s brand – as a place, where competent people can thrive. Nowadays it’s rather obvious you can (or even must) create an internet persona. Look at Tony Robbins, Elon Musk, or even Slavoj Zizek. Each of these people is from a completely different world, yet they all have one thing in common – internet fame (for better or worse). It would be hard to imagine that Slovenian philosopher or a slightly egomaniacal billionaire’s rise to fame without the audience the internet provides. Yet here we are – these people are widely known for their online antics.
It’s important to note, that your internet persona is not someone completely different from you, but rather an extension of yourself. Here are the main distinctions between online and offline authority:
Why You Should Care About Authority?
From your perspective, you must remember two different types of authority: internal and external. Internal authority is the authority you build within the team you’re working with. External, on the other hand, is more about your personal brand, how people from the industry perceive you, and how you “sell” your knowledge during meetings, networking, etc.
Internal authority is about cooperation with your team. As mentioned earlier, sharing the decision-making process with other members gives each person a sense of agency and actual influence on the company’s progress, instead of just dull completing the tasks given by the higher-ups. PI Planning is a great way to impose this kind of authority.
PI Planning – reminder:
Program Increment (PI) Planning is a cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train (ART), aligning all the teams on the ART to a shared mission and vision. PI planning is essential to SAFe®: If you are not doing it, you are not doing SAFe®.
External authority focuses on the way you communicate with the outside world. That heavily relies on your personal ambitions. More or less elbow grease and you may be regarded as an expert. That does not mean everyone will automatically fall to your feet, which, by the way, shouldn’t be your priority. What’s important is authenticity. If you’re a crowd-pleaser and a social animal – go for it. If you’re more of a reclusive, introverted person – that’s okay, too. Why? Because people can smell BS from miles away. You have to be yourself to build your authority properly. Faking your personality makes no sense in the long run. So focus on your strong points, find a proper niche, and thrive.
How to build your authority in your team
- Be a good listener – people work better when they know their concerns or problems can be heard.
- Deescalate conflicts – two stubborn people in one team? Be a facilitator, don’t let the conflict affect the whole team. Talk and look for solutions together.
- Create a friendly environment – it’s no sugar, spice, and everything nice. A good environment is a place with clear boundaries, communication, and goals.
- Don’t try to be everyone’s friends – you can make people like each other, but you will make unpopular decisions sooner or later. Keep a healthy distance and focus on work during conversations.
- Be direct – say, what you want to say with no fillers or, worse, jokes. Remember Michael Scott from The Office? Do the exact opposite of what he does (well, most of the time).
- Don’t hesitate – you’re not an omniscient being, but you can’t say things like “I guess”, “maybe”, or, “I think so”. Be up-to-date and if you don’t know something, write it down and check later.
- Talk to stakeholders – want heads-up? Talk to stakeholders and clients about their vision and goals. This way nothing will surprise you.
- Don’t get drowned in small-talk – there is leisure talk, and there is business talk. Set boundaries about unrelated topics or don’t talk about them completely, only during parties or time off.
- Think ahead – have the company’s goals and visions in mind. Short-term goals are important, but you must understand the bigger picture.
- Praise your team – whenever there is an occasion, say a few nice words about the people you work with. Like Da Vinci allegedly said, reprove your friend in secret and praise him openly.
How to build your authority online?
Building your online reputation happens mostly through one thing: content. Of course, this is an umbrella term and may relate to many different things, like videos, blog posts, or articles. The point is, that content helps you get positioned in Google and get to people.
Writing articles on Linkedin or Facebook is a good way to gain first followers. You can later move on to create your own newsletter, where you will comment and link articles about important topics to your subscribers. You can even have your own Medium or Substack page, where you gain even more tools to create interesting articles with graphics and videos.
If you feel like a natural, you can start creating videos. Longer forms are suitable for YouTube, while shorter, more substantial videos that last around a minute are a good match for Instagram reels or TikTok. You can later connect all of these different media by linking them to each other. It’s a lot of work, but getting big on this pretty saturated market ain’t no weekend gig. Go big or go home – online authority knows no compromises.
Key Strategies To Become an Authority On Your Topic
- Focus on one specific topic.
- Have a reliable background.
- Learn all the time, don’t fall behind with your knowledge.
- Be regular with your content.
- Be consistent, don’t talk to Linkedin’s audience like they’re on Twitter.
- Keep in mind, who your target audience is.
- Have a sense of humor, but don’t try to be a comedian.
- Talk, comment, and engage with your audience.
- Have a long-term strategy.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with new platforms.
How data can be your greatest ally in authority building?
In decision-making and calling the shots hunches are great, but you know what’s better? Evidence-based hunches. Seems kind of contradictory, but in this day and age, you can easily find and gather data that can easily help your programs or products. Things like customer surveys or Jira tickets can easily point you, to where are the potential weak spots that need improvement, and which features are your main strengths. Tools like Google Analytics can easily assess your company’s site performance and position. There are many different data to harvest, process, and use. And if your team sees that you are a person willing to dive into the hard numbers, they’ll know you’re about to make decisions based on data, not whims.