What is leading beyond authority?
Participants gain in many ways from attending a Common
Purpose programme and one is that they learn to "lead beyond
their authority". This expression was coined by Common Purpose
alumni as they described the impact of being encouraged to lead in
situations in which they were not in a position of authority.
They observed that most of their prior leadership development
had been devoted to developing their leadership in situations where
they were the nominated or accepted leader - when they had a job
title, budget and task to deliver on. And that Common Purpose gave
them a different take on leadership, when they were beyond the
limits of their authority and dealing with issues, problems and
opportunities that required them to work with peers, stakeholders
and partners over whom they of course had no authority. This meant
that they had to learn to lead in new ways and change their
thinking about collaboration. In the past many have associated
collaboration with dumbing down to cobble together a vanilla
consensus solution. Participants had now acquired the skills to
build and sustain collaborations that make two and two deliver
As a result Common Purpose founder Julia Middleton wrote a book
on the subject in 2007. In the book she interviews leaders who have
either been successful beyond their authority within their
organisation - which she describes as the first outer circle - or
who have succeeded beyond their organisation - the second outer
The challenges of getting leaders to go into the first outer
circle are well known to organisations that wrestle with the 'silo'
problem, when leaders build walls on the boundaries of their
authority and the organisation struggles to connect the parts up.
They aspire to develop leaders who will operate for the benefit of
the organisation as a whole, dealing with issues that cross
boundaries, problems that leaders could claim were not their own,
leaders who will run the risk of appearing to interfere in other's
business and deal with the complex and messy challenges that will
never fit nicely inside the walls of the organisation.
The second outer circle, that takes leaders right out of their
organisations, presents an even greater challenge. Yet leaders in
the modern world are increasingly called on to work with customers,
stakeholders and partner organisations. Their organisations are no
longer islands entirely of themselves and they need leaders who can
thrive and succeed beyond their organisations boundaries.
Cities badly need the leaders of its organisations and
institutions to be capable of working together, in collaboration,
for the very same reasons. Otherwise opportunities are missed,
resources wasted and problems built up.
The Common Purpose programmes help leaders develop the
ability to lead in the outer circles, the book "Beyond Authority" looks at how
experienced leaders have avoided the dangers of consensus and
succeeded through collaboration.
Find out more about Julia Middleton's Beyond Authority: Leadership in a
changing world book.
David Bell on Leading Beyond Authority
Dr Musharraf Hussain is well versed in leading beyond authority
because, as he says, Imams have no authority outside their own
"We made a bid for our school to be supported by the Local
Education Authority in Nottingham- and we failed. I think I became
blinded by the strength of the arguments we were making in our bid.
There was such an overwhelming and strong case and the need was
clear. Maybe I relied too much on the intellectual argument. With
hindsight, the piece we did not put enough effort into was the
building of the relationships."
Dr Musharraf Hussain, Director General of Bobbersmill Community
Centre in Nottingham, and an Imam
"Leaders all look at things from their own core. You have to
coax them to come out and look at the issue again from a new angle
- and to do it together. It takes some time. But, when it works,
Zenna Atkins, Chair of Places for People, the largest housing
association in the UK
"As you keep going out of your core circle, and you get better
at it, your circles expand too. As you progress within your
organisation, your core circle gets bigger, often because you have
got better at negotiating your way around the other circles."
James Ramsbotham is Chief Executive of the North East Chamber of
Commerce and former vice-chair of the Esh group
"Leadership, in and out of authority, takes courage; a broad
view; common sense; a small ego; the ability to focus and
concentrate effort; a preparedness to change your mind publicly for
the right reasons; and an ability to engage and influence
Sir John Rose, Chief Executive, Rolls Royce plc
"The lovely thing about the outer circles is that all that
really matters there is influence. And influence travels. You can't
transfer authority from one circle to another - but you can
transfer influence. And influence is mainly about character. I
believe influence increases if you behave properly and do what you
say you will do".
Lord Puttnam (David), former filmmaker, President of UNICEF (UK)
and advisor to the Department of Education