Ken Blanchard, author of the One Minute Managerwrote, “The key to successful leadership is influence not authority.” Politician, judge and author Thomas C. Halliburton wrote, “Whenever there is authority, there is a natural inclination to disobedience.”

Influence is defined as, “The power to change or affect someone or something or the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.” In contrast, the word authority is defined as, “The power to give orders or make decisions or the power or right to direct or control someone or something.”

Most of us believe there is a time and place to use influence or authority to get what we want. In construction, we are either managing employees or clients. In the case of clients, when we sign a subcontract we agree to give-up much of our authority but not our influence. When we hire an employee, they know we have authority but will leading by authority get us the results we want? It’s truly a balancing act.


Does having the power or right to direct or control someone or something get you the short and long term results you want? My youngest son Tanner always questioned my authority by asking “why?” I learned later in life that Tanner wasn’t questing my authority at all, he was questioning what didn’t make sense to him. Yet, there were many times when he asked why because he thought he could change my mind. It was his way of negotiating with me.

Using our authority to get what we want rarely results in getting us just that because our employees and clients have their own opinions, thoughts and beliefs, until we explain why. When we explain, we begin to move from authority to influence, and that’s when our employees and clients begin to listen.

Influencing Clients

Major conflicts with our clients are usually the result of imposing whatever authority we have. The flip side to authority is to influence our clients to give us what we want. Influencing our clients is having the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen. In other words, when we use our authority to force change, it is usually met with equal or greater resistance because we didn’t influence them by explaining why.

To influence your client consider presenting a compelling story in person, which includes the root cause of a problem (the why), analysis of the problem (impact), and finally, a judgment (the cost-options). A compelling story begins by explaining the problem and why it exists. Meaning, you have to know the root cause of the problem to present a compelling story. For example, it is not enough to tell your client that you’re going to charge them for having to remobilize to all 24 bathrooms to complete ceilings.

Again, to influence your client, present your compelling story in person, and include the root cause, your analysis and judgment, all in an effort to explain why you’re charging them and how the charges can be minimized or eliminated.

(Root Cause)

“As you know, the owner decided on a different bathroom light fixture in all 24 bathrooms. As a result, we won’t be able to finish our work and will have to remobilize to each of the 24 bathrooms after the light fixtures are installed.”


“As a result, the ceiling drywall in each of the bathrooms can’t be installed at the same time the walls of the bathroom are boarded. You requested that we install the drywall on bathroom walls and then remobilize to each bathroom after the new light fixtures are installed to complete the ceiling.”


“This change in schedule and sequence will cause us to remobilize to each of the 24 bathrooms, require additional cleanup, and restocking. As a result, we estimate the additional cost to be $12,100. (See attached breakdown of costs). As an option, we are willing to perform the work on a time and material basis in an effort to minimize cost or preferably, please ask the owner to reconsider this change.

“Presenting a compelling entitlement story in person gives your client the opportunity to question your why, and your answers are the beginning of influence rather than authority.

“Not all change order requests require entitlement presentations, however, managers should know which changes do. Changes involving schedule, sequence, manpower or supervision (SSMS) changes are the most difficult to get approved, and that is why these sorts of cost impact changes should be presented immediately, in person, and in a very compelling, non-confrontational way.”

Influencing Employees

Again, influence is the power to change or affect someone or something or the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen. Authority is the exact opposite of influence because authority is the power to give orders in an effort to direct or control someone or something.

According to employees, and especially the millennial generation of employee’s ages 20 to 35 years old who’s top priority is to be mentored, your approach makes a huge difference. Henry Drummond said it best: “The people who influence you are the people who believe in you.”

Influencing the people you manage to do the right things is teaching them to do the right things. In other words, to teach requires that you explain the why, while knowing it’s a slower process than just telling employee’s what to do. However, the time you spend teaching and explaining the why sends a strong message to employees that you believe in them and that’s a connection you can’t buy for any amount of money.

If you consistently influence the people you manage to do the right things you will rarely have to use your authority to get what you want. In the long term, influencing your employees will save you time, and will have a lasting effect.

To delegate one’s authority is to assign or give authority to someone else. It’s a very old term that many owners have used to disengage themselves or others only to empower someone else. Having authority in itself is really overrated unless the person having authority has the ability to influence others to do the right things.

Said differently, give authority to people who don’t need it because those are the people who know how to get clients and employees to do the right things. If you’re a young person coming up through the office or field ranks, I want to suggest that you learn the art of influence. You may want to pick up an old book that has sold roughly 15 million copies written by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People,for under $10, a small investment to get you started.

When Influence Fails

Throughout history, there are many examples of leaders who used their ability to influence others for the wrong reasons and in the end they failed. In most of these cases they went from influencers to get people on board and once in power changed to authoritarians in a bad way. When we influence people for the wrong reasons, it usually ends in failure.

As our Presidential elections heat up, we will be bombarded with influential messages meant to influence our vote, which is really no different than any advertising message, yet, these highly influential messages work because they create perceived value and emotional connections.

Once our candidate is elected or once we buy that thing, we find out over time if there was any real value in what we received for our vote or our money. I think the one thing we can learn from advertising is that the majority of the world’s population is waiting to be influenced by someone or something. In other words, there are far more influencees than there are influencers.

In an article written by Tim Milburn, he describes “Three Characteristics of an Influential Leader.”

  • Inspirational Not Menial 
    “If you are satisfied with the status quo, you won’t be very inspirational. If you are comfortable with the way things are, you aren’t cut out for leadership. People want to follow leaders who instill hope, who are positive in the midst of setbacks, and who point people toward a better future.”
  • Instructional Not Judgmental
    “An influential leader needs to possess a skill or something they do well. Then, they must be willing to teach this skill to those around them.”
  • Intentional Not Accidental
    “I want to follow a leader who knows where he or she is going (and knows where we should be going).”

“It’s like a parade. There are a lot of people standing on the side of the street ... watching. But it’s even more fun to be in the parade. Leaders who are influential help people get in the parade.”

Once in authority, authoritarians are rarely inspirational, or instructional but can be very intentional yet they rarely let people know where “WE” are going because there is no “WE.” The “WE” the win-win isn’t a part of the plan. The true authoritarian is best described as the “I” or the “ME.”

Great influencers who have authority don’t need it because people want to follow influential leaders knowing they have authority. In other words, if you’re not influencing your clients and employees every day to do the right things, your authority is wasted.

Earlier in the article I recommended the book, How to Win Friends and Influence Peoplefor those of you in the early stages of your career. For more seasoned managers who truly want to transform themselves and their business, I highly recommend that you subscribe to Bernadette Jiwa’s Web site. At first you may think it’s about branding a business, but in reality, I believe it’s about learning what your clients and employees (people) really want from you and your company.

You can sign up to receive her newsletters at

As Thomas C. Halliburton wrote, “Whenever there is authority, there is a natural inclination to disobedience.” I’ve never talked to a horse, but maybe the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” is true?