Authority vs. Influence

When most people think of power, they think of the person in the conference room with the most authority.

Formal authority comes from decision-making power and control over resources.

If you’re a member of the board, you have power because you must approve my operating budget for the fiscal year.

If you are my boss, you have formal authority over me for the simple reason that you can fire me.

If you’re the vice president of sales, you have formal authority because you control a 60-person department. 

Most academic and corporate cultures are based around this concept of formal authority.

Formal authority is very much linked to promotions, job titles, and traditional notions of career advancement.

However, there’s another form of power that is often completely overlooked, ignored, and rarely developed. 

This form of power is known as...

INFLUENCE

In client organizations, McKinsey consultants (and especially partners) wield enormous “power” despite not appearing on the client’s org chart, having no budget, and not having any decision-making authority whatsoever.

When I first witnessed this in person, it blew me away. 

During a meeting with senior executives, all the executives would look at the CEO to see what he or she thought. Then, the CEO would look at the McKinsey partner to see what the partner thought.

As I shifted from doing analysis at McKinsey to managing more client relationships, clients began to look at me to see what I thought.

It was a peculiar position to be in for me. Back then, I was not accustomed to it at all.

I’ve since come to appreciate that this form of influence or gravitas is very much a learnable skill.

Having gravitas is not about being domineering, arrogant, or extroverted.

It is first and foremost about being tuned in to, observant of, and aware of the power dynamics that are always at play anytime two people are in the same room together.

Influence isn’t about bravado, supreme confidence, or talking the most.

The people with the most gravitas are often completely non-threatening, possess a quiet inner confidence, and often speak the least — but are listened to the most.

Gravitas isn’t about being better than others and demanding that others “respect” you.

It’s much more about being perceived a “peer” to everyone (including people more senior to you), and genuinely earning their respect.

Gravitas is far less about adopting certain traits, using techniques, or managing perceptions. It is far more about developing relationships, listening to others in a specific way, and genuinely adding value to all involved.

If you haven’t been paying attention to gravitas in your career, I invite you to learn more by submitting the form below. This will add you to my notification list for the release of my program on How to Develop Gravitas for Extreme Career Success

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