How to Move from Positional to Permission-Based Leadership

Being a leader gives you great authority and power, but to truly lead, inspire excellence and voluntary engagement beyond a team member’s job description requires humility, tact and the ability to truly connect.

“No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and the hearts of his men.”

Infantryman’s Journal (1954)

Throughout history we’ve seen leaders exercise power and authority purely from a positional perspective. And 90% of the time, it doesn’t end well for them. Using positional leadership only forces people to follow you as a leader within the stated boundary of the authority given by the position you hold.  It will not earn you the influence you need to realize your vision as a leader. This archaic style of leadership is at the heart of most of the revolutions that we have seen in the middle east and around the world (both in ancient and recent times).

As leaders, if we want to truly and whole heartedly engage our teams and followers, we need to rely on true influence which can only be earned.  And the only way to earn it is by addressing the top three concerns on the minds of the people you lead.

1. Do you care for me?
Everyone wants to know that they are important and that they matter to you as a leader.  If your people feel in the slightest way that this is not true, you’re going to have a hard time engaging them in any meaningful way. This can be achieved by listening to and understanding your people’s story.

2. Can you help me?
As the leader, your people must feel secured knowing that you’ll do anything possible to ensure that they are successful.  One of the best ways to do that is by removing roadblocks and providing them with opportunities that will maximize their chance for success.  For example, when a team member comes to you with an issue, don’t become part of the problem. Take it as an opportunity to help and add value to the team member.

3. Can I trust you?
This is the part where your character as a leader comes into play. If being “hot” today and “cold” tomorrow is a habit of yours, your people will have a hard time knowing where you stand.  Trust is not something you build in a day.  It takes time to nurture.  Nonetheless,  if you’re consistent with your values and you communicate the principles and values under which you operate to the people you lead,  you will surely build trust… over time.  Eventually, they will not have to guess where you stand on the important issues. And that build trust.

At times, you will have a need to use positional influence. It is an inevitable fact.  However,  the danger is when that is the only type of influence you use with your team.  Continual use of positional influence is the quickest way to lose respect as a leader.  It also lowers the effectiveness both for you and the team. My friend and mentor John Maxwell puts it this way:

“Nothing is wrong with having a leadership position. Everything is wrong with using position to get people to follow. Position is a poor substitute for influence.”

To be more effective as a leader, address the top three concerns of the people you lead.  If you do this, your people will love to work with and for you. If you don’t, you’re always going to struggle with leadership.

To help you  learn more about how to address those three questions and navigate the minefield of leadership, I facilitate Mastermind Groups on leadership based Dr. John C. Maxwell’s best-selling book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” and the newest book “The 5 Level of Leadership”.  Register today for an upcoming mastermind group or express interests in future groups via this link.

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3 thoughts on “How to Move from Positional to Permission-Based Leadership

  1. November 27, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Excellent post, Michael. Very nice site!

    1. November 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks, Stephan! You can also subscribe so you can receive new posts as they are published.

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