Leadership is a multifaceted journey that often oscillates between the exertion of authority and the cultivation of influence. While the former can ensure order and discipline, the latter weaves the fabric of loyalty and innovation. In the complex realm of organizational dynamics, understanding when to employ the firm hand of authority or the gentle art of influence can make all the difference. This post will explore how leaders can navigate this spectrum, particularly in steering the ship of change within an organization.

The Authority of Leadership

Authority in leadership is about command and control (usually comes with a person’s position in an organization). It’s the power to give orders and make decisions with an expectation of compliance. This traditional form of leadership is often necessary in situations where quick, decisive action is needed, or where clear structure and discipline are paramount. However, relying solely on authority can be limiting. It may lead to a culture of dependency, where team members wait for instructions rather than taking initiative.

leadership authority and influence
The Influence of Leadership

In contrast, influence-based leadership is built on relationships and trust. It’s a slower process, requiring consistent communication and the demonstration of shared values. Leaders who excel in influence do not just direct; they listen, empathize, and engage, fostering a culture of mutual respect. This approach can lead to deeper commitment and more sustainable change.

Comparing Approaches in Organizational Change Management

Consider the process of change management in an organization. Under authority-based leadership, the focus is on communicating the changes and enforcing acceptance. This approach can lead to resistance and minimal engagement. Without the buy-in that comes from understanding the ‘why,’ changes are often met with skepticism or passive resistance. The setbacks of such an approach can include a lack of genuine commitment, reduced innovation, and a workforce that’s less adaptable to future shifts.

On the other hand, influence-based leadership emphasizes the ‘why’ behind the changes, seeking to get buy-in from the team. This method may take longer, but it often results in a deeper, more genuine commitment to the new direction. when leaders prioritize understanding and shared purpose, they cultivate a collective commitment. By engaging teams in dialogue, addressing concerns, and highlighting the benefits of change, leaders can transform potential resistance into proactive support. It’s a strategy that not only smooths the transition but also strengthens the team’s cohesion and resilience in the face of future challenges.

Navigating Change
Microsoft’s Cultural Transformation

A prime example of influence in leadership is Satya Nadella’s tenure at Microsoft. Faced with the challenge of revitalizing a stagnant corporate culture, Nadella shifted the focus from rigid performance metrics to a growth mindset. He emphasized learning over knowing and collaboration over individual achievement. This wasn’t a mandate but a cultural evolution, driven by the influence of a leader who believed in the power of human potential.

Change Management and Buy-In: The Role of Influence

In the realm of change management, authority dictates while influence persuades. Under Nadella, Microsoft’s leaders were encouraged to bring their teams into the fold, explaining the ‘why’ behind changes. This approach sought not just compliance but buy-in, ensuring that employees understood and were invested in the new direction. It’s a testament to the power of influence in leading transformative change.


Authority and influence are not mutually exclusive in leadership. The most effective leaders know when to exert authority and when to lean on influence. The age-old ‘carrot and stick’ approach has its place, but the modern leader knows that the ‘carrot’—the appeal to shared values and collective goals—often yields a more sustainable and positive outcome than the ‘stick’ of authority alone

As we navigate the complexities of organizational change, we must ask ourselves: Are we commanding from a place of power, or are we cultivating a movement that will endure? The answer may very well determine the success of our leadership legacy.