How Arts Leaders Build Expert and Relationship Power: The Two Best Ways to Establish Your Leadership Credibility

This past weekend, I again had the privilege and pleasure of working with the talented young opera executives who were selected for the 2017 Leadership Intensive program at Opera AmericaOne of the most helpful topics of our intense sessions was how to gain credibility as a young leader because of a perceived lack of leadership power.

One of the biggest challenges for a young leader is feeling a lack of power when you do not have the title or the authority that comes with being the number one leader in an organization.  This challenge often manifests in how to be taken seriously when you are often younger than the people you supervise or when you are the age of the children or grandchildren of your donors and constituents.

The good news? You can lead at any age from any position.

And you can build your power and credibility as a young leader in one of two ways:

  1. Expert Power
  2. Relationship Power

The better news?

These two sources of power are the most effective way to influence followers and exert leadership!

Here’s how to build up your expert and your relationship power.

Sources of Power

There are a number of ways that we can acquire power.  One is the formal source of power that comes from having a title and/or the authority to hire and fire.  While several of our young leaders mentioned being intimidated by the hierarchy and thus feeling a lack of power to take charge, others indicated that they chafed under formal authority and often resented having to play the secondary role.  Indeed, studies show that when formal authority is overused, it erodes one’s personal power.

That’s why personal power can be so effective!  Personal power stems from being seen as the expert in a particular area and/or from being a trusted and valued member of the organization. And studies show that personal power has a much more positive effect on others than positional power.

So let’s take a closer look at both sources of personal power.

  1. Expert Power

Let’s look at two things you can do right now to build your expertise power.

Expert power exists when you have carved out an area of expertise and are the go-to source of information or knowledge in a particular area that the organization needs.  As a young leader, you can immediately begin to build your expertise in an area that you enjoy and want to excel at.

Expertise means that you

  • Understand a particular subject that is important to the organization; and
  • Have a proven track record of success

Because of your expertise, you become so credible that other people adopt your ideas and rely on you to provide the information in your area of expertise.

One promising area where young arts leaders can quickly build their expertise is in community engagement and teaching artistry–two relatively new fields. Several of our participants shared how they developed their expertise in community engagement.  One young leader learned how to be a respected teaching artist by:

  • Studying the leading book in the area by the godfather of teaching artistry, Eric Booth, The Teaching Artist’s Bible;
  • Seeking out advice and mentorship from more experienced teaching artists; and
  • Engaging in a lot of experimentation and learning by trial and error.

Another participant studied the best practices in the area of devised theater and went out of her way to take on these projects in her organization.

How do you develop expert power?

  • Find projects or work areas where you can shine and become the go-to person.
  • Learn more, either through formal education or informal study.
  • Enroll in a program and become certified in a particular area.
  • Observe or team up with another expert.
  • Use respected outside references, articles, or other sources of information.
  • Study the best practices in your area.
  • Find a mentor to help you develop your expertise.
  1. Relationship Power

Relationship power means that you have successfully built excellent relationships by being trustworthy, reliable, positive, honest and proactive.  Studies also show that people are more likely to adopt the ideas of people whom they like. That’s why it is so important to build strong relationships and be perceived as likeable, reliable, easy to work with, generous and helpful.  As is the case with expert power, as a young leader, you can immediately work on building your relationship power.

Relationship power means that people find you:

  • Trustworthy: you keep confidences, so that they will listen to you and know that you have the best interests of other people in mind;
  • Honest: you are transparent in your dealings;
  • Reliable: you get things done, you are accountable and you deliver on your commitments;
  • Positive: you have a can-do attitude and show others that you are a motivated, dedicated hard-working person; and,
  • Proactive:  you seek out opportunities so that people know you are someone who will make things happen.

Being proactive and volunteering for opportunities to help out the organization, even if outside your job description, shows people that you are someone who makes things happen and on whom they can rely to get the job done.

For example, the CEO of Opera America, Marc Scorca, shared that when he was a young member of the development team at New York City Opera under Beverly Sills’  tenure as General Manager, he volunteered to spend a weekend helping out at the organization’s Radiothon, even though that was outside of his job description. Not only did he help the organization but he also connected with a lot of the patrons and got to know Beverly Sills even better. It was a great example of how a young ambitious leader can build credibility despite the lack of title and authority.

One of our participants who works in the education department of a large opera shared that he is actively engaged in working with the local community. He voluntarily attends community meetings and is creating exciting new educational programs that will benefit the community’s members. By being proactive, he lets the community and its leaders know that he genuinely wants to forge a meaningful partnerships and he demonstrate his commitment to doing so.

What can you do to build up relationship power?

  • Get to know people by meeting with them individually.
  • Develop a wide network within your organization, as well as in your field.
  • Be generous with your time.
  • Follow through on your commitments to show that you are trustworthy and reliable.
  • Be honest when dealing with others.
  • Proactively look to work with like-minded colleagues who already have a reputation for honesty, trustworthiness and reliability.
  • Seek out opportunities to make things happen.
  • Observe how skillful people operate and model their behavior.
  • Find a mentor.

Bottom Line:

There are many ways to build your leadership power, even if you lack the title or are young, by developing your expertise and building your relationships.  Yes, this takes time but it is a meaningful and effective long-term strategy that pays off both for you as the leader, as well as for the organizations and communities that you serve.