Leadership & Management64

Leading when you're not the boss?

Evan Leybourn

March 10, 2019


We have entered a new business era - a time of leaders rather than managers. And there's plenty of help available on how to be a leader, much of it focused on being better boss. Don't get me wrong - this is fantastic - it can't come soon enough. But not all of us are bosses. How can you be a leader if you don't manage anyone? This is where we need to distinguish between two different forms of authority.

  1. Institutional Authority - where your authority (or right to lead) is instilled by virtue of the position you hold in the organisation.
  2. Personal Authority - where your authority (or right to lead) is instilled by those around you.

Obviously, a strong leader (in the boss definition) should have both, but it's personal authority that I'm interested in. An individual's personal authority over you is strongly aligned to a) how much you trust their competence and b) sharing a commonality of purpose.

A consultant, brought in to change an organization, needs a great deal of personal authority. Speaking from experience, they rarely have adequate institutional authority and yet are charged with changing the way 1000's of people work. In this instance, a consultant brings with them a known competence in their field. What they need to do is build trust and commonality of purpose in order to be successful.

Another example, as a regular speaker, everytime I get on stage, the audience gives me personal authority over them. I can ask them to stand up and dance if I so choose (and have done so :-) ) and they will follow. I can also lose that authority, if I show a lack of competence or my talk isn't what they thought (trust/commonality) then they will ignore me or leave.

The same is true of each of you. Each of you can learn to accrue and wield personal authority within your organisations. And here's the secret, you can (and should) hold personal authority over your boss. As long as you are competent, trusted and aligned - you can tell your boss what to do.



Subscribe to “Emergence: the Journal of Business Agility”

Delivered to your mailbox four times a year, we bring together a curated selection of exclusive stories by great thinkers and practitioners from around the globe that you’ll only find in our publications.

These stories, research reports, and articles were selected to broaden your horizons and spark your creativity.

BAI Individual Membership Benefits

  • Unrestricted access the business agility library

  • Download complete eBooks on the most pressing topics

  • Replay your favourite moments from any of the global Business Agility Conferences

  • Network with your peers from around the world

  • Member discount on your subscription to Emergence

1 / Infinity

October 6, 2022, 5 minutes read time

Connecting Coach to Business Need

September 12, 2022, 54 seconds read time

2022 State of Agile Coaching

July 10, 2020, 15 minutes read time

From Ensemble to Orchestra

December 5, 2020, 32 seconds read time

Leaning Into Culture During Times of Crisis

July 29, 2020, 26 minutes read time

Structural Agility

You have NaN out of 5 free articles to read

Please subscribe and become a member to access the entire Business Agility Library without restriction.