Empowerment and the power of influence in leadership

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I was chatting to a younger colleague recently about a potential career opportunity for her, which would have meant stepping up into a leadership position. The role is internally focused, leading a team that provides a service to internal stakeholders.

This young woman is smart and thinks deeply about her own self and where she wants to go in life. In fact, I admire her greatly for this reason. However, I was a little surprised by her immediate reaction to the opportunity when she said; “I don’t think that role has any real decision making, as you are constantly working at the behest of others. At least in my current role, I get say over what happens and when it happens.”

This conversation got me thinking about how some people view leadership and what’s important for them as they step into these roles in their career. I think the word “empowerment” has become over-used in describing the fundamentals of being a leader and we need to re-think what we mean by the word and how it applies to individuals’ responsibilities.

Having a level of control and say over what we do day-to-day is important – it’s at that basic level of having choice. However, in the world of work, how powerful is ultimate decision making versus influence?

Many may think empowerment and influence are the same thing, however for me the power of influence goes beyond deciding ‘what happens and when it happens’. When people exercise influence, they get to have impact in not only the daily decisions, but also ones that are wider reaching. Influence is the ability to affect wider change, beyond individual responsibility, that’s where real leadership lies.

But how is it achieved? Learning how to harness and impart influence is a long game and being able to have a say is first about establishing oneself as a person of great ideas and actions. Once individual leaders build their credibility, it’s not long before others seek them out for their expertise.

It’s about the relationships we have and the ideas and data we bring to others; the opportunity not to only decide on what is done, when, but to influence decisions outside of our immediate role and responsibilities.

So perhaps the traditional notions of leadership need to be rethought entirely. When crafting leadership opportunities for the next generation we need to show the power of influence and how impactful it can really be, but we also need to empower people to want to share what they have to offer to a wider group. Because without giving a voice to the leaders of tomorrow, we may never understand the influence they can truly bring to an organisation.

Louisa Gregory, Chief of Staff

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