File this one under Peeves. And maybe under Startup Life.

I bristle inside when someone says that they didn’t fix a problem or offer a solution because they “didn’t feel like they had the authority to make that decision.”  I’ve heard this a lot over the years. “If I was the Director of x,y,z, then I would find a way to make this thing better.”

It seems like the people who think this way, also worry most about formal “promotion.” They are thoughtful and ambitious, and want “to be given the opportunity to show leadership.”

Hear ye, Hear ye.  To have better job satisfaction, to make the world a better place, to gain useful experience, to become a valuable part of a team…

Let your influence define your role; Don’t let your role define your influence.

Notice, I’m not saying ‘railroad people with your brilliant plan that is going to move the needle.’

Use your influence. This is a professional skill you can learn. It’s more important than title. It’s more important than managing people.

Shift your thinking. Do you really need some formal grant of authority to get shit done?  If you can leave this behind, you will achieve so much more AND be way more happy in your job. Free your mind. Suddenly, you can do anything you want, so long as you exercise your influence by working with others.

Engage people.


Ask questions to get past the surface of objections into the root cause.

Build trust by being self-aware, honest, and meeting your commitments.

Propose solutions to test.

Follow up religiously.

An American soldier with a joey, 1942

Closing thought: This isn’t binary. It’s not the case that you either think this way or you don’t. All of us shift in and out of this thinking. We do it so subtly that we don’t realize we’ve done it. There are some kinds of things I’m really good about ‘just doing,’ and other things where I have to interrupt my brain from thinking “If I had x job, then I could make y happen.” This is why practicing self-awareness is an important leadership skill. Let’s all get better. No more passing the buck and waiting for someone to hand us formal authority. Let’s just work together and move the needle.