Leading Beyond Authority

Common Purpose aims to inspire, develop and connect leaders who can lead beyond their direct area of authority – at work, in their communities and in their cities.

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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 ten.

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 circle.

LBA Circle Diagram

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.