For the Love of Work Podcast
For the Love of Work Podcast

Episode 3: The Employee Influence (transcript)


I got my first job when I was fifteen. Nothing fancy. Just a hostess gig at this Italian place in my small Albertan town. People came in to eat and it was my job to greet them, get them to their table. So, on my first day I looked around and I thought, okay, I’m at the bottom of the ladder. Not a lot of power in this position…. But I was wrong.

I figured out pretty quickly, that choosing where to seat people is actually a big deal in the restaurant world. It was my decision where to put the regulars who were known for racking up big cheques and leaving great tips. And the way that I organized tables determined who’d be able to go home early and who’d be hanging around until closing watching their tables sipping on water. Servers started bringing me free food and trying to get on my good side. And I was there, 15 years old, standing at my little hostess podium, thinking: I might be at the bottom of the hierarchy, but I’ve got a lot of power.


This is For The Love Of Work, an original podcast about the employee experience made possible by Rogers. I’m Dr. Sonia Kang. In this episode: real power versus authority.




As much as I loved the free food, I don’t work as a hostess anymore. But I sometimes think about that power I used to wield. And the lesson I learned: that no matter your age or position, there might be something people need from you that they can’t get anywhere else.

Ron Heiffetz: [00:07:00] when we begin to distinguish leadership from authority, we can begin to see there are a lot of people practicing leadership without authority, and there are also a lot of people in authority who don’t practice very much leadership.

Right, I didn’t have any authority, but I was practicing some leadership by organizing that dining room. Now, that was Ron Heiffetz, the Director, of Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. You might remember, we spoke to him last season. And he makes a really important distinction about leadership that we should keep in mind right from the start.

RH: It’s an activity that you do when you see [00:32:30] problems that aren’t being addresses properly in the organization and for which the organization needs new capacity, where it needs to change how it’s relating to its external community, where it needs to change how it’s relating to its own employees, for example.

Real leadership is a practice, it’s something you do, we can all do, and so it’s a skill we can build over time.

RH: Even in this coronavirus crisis that we..are living through in one way or another, we see all sorts of leadership emerging from every walk of life, from people leading their families and making [00:06:30] critical adjustments toward well as people in nonprofits and…in  community organizations, as well as in governments and in companies.

It’s not a badge that anybody can give you. And that’s what we’re exploring in this episode. How you can make a difference and have influence no matter what your role is or what your title happens to be.

We’re gonna learn how to do something called power mapping which you can use, to identify opportunities, for influence within an organization. And we will learn how to build a network of like minded colleagues who can help us enact the change we want to see, the change we believe will benefit the organization, and ourselves.



Hi Sonia!  I’ve been working in customer success at a startup for about two years now. And I love it, it’s great, but…lately I’ve been a bit frustrated. Basically by the way we manage our customer data. Like, with only a few tweaks, it could be much better. Which would be great for the customers and great for us. And I think I know the way to do it. Anyway, the problem is I don’t think it’s really my place to say something about it. So my question is just [laughs] how do I change something I’m not allowed to change?



Well, we often make that assumption, right? That we’re not allowed to change things. That real change only comes from the top. But we’re going to learn how to transform that feeling into a new kind of agency. To get us going, we need to know what we’re looking for. So what is influence, really?

Tiziana Casciaro: [00:01:00]… you have to … understand the difference between authority and power.

My friend and colleague Tiziana Casciaro is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management—and the coauthor of Power for All…She equates leadership with power. But there’s two kinds of power.

The first one comes with authority. The stuff you get with a title. Manager, Director, VP of this, VP of that. Those roles have the power to hire and fire and give direct orders. That formal authority, and the power that comes with it, is important. But Tiziana says there’s another kind of power that doesn’t depend on authority.

Tiziana Casciaro: Power is defined as the ability to influence other people and..power comes from having control over resources that people need or want… [Take for example, information, even when you are a lower level employee, you may have access to knowledge, information, or networks that are relevant and [00:03:00] important to other people. And through those resources, you can exercise some influence over them even when you don’t have the formal authority…[[00:02:30] because they will be dependent on you for something that they want.]

Seen in this way, power is more subtle. Maybe you’ve got expertise in a particular knowledge domain. Maybe you’re a master of pivot tables and macros in an office full of Excel newbs. You have some unique ability that other people want and you can exert this individual superpower to gain influence…but there’s a catch.

Tiziana Casciaro: You are pursuing goals that go way beyond [00:18:30] individual accomplishment. It’s always about the collective. Otherwise, what is leadership if you’re only leading yourself? You lead other people, and you cannot really lead them productively unless they are pursuing something that is collectively appealing and important to them.

This is key to influence. It’s not about getting what you want; it’s not about celebrating yourself. Sure, making that happen may be something that you want. But the approach, the attitude that leads to true influence is always going to have the group’s best interest in mind.

And, you know, there’s never been a better time to think about this kind of big-picture influence…The pandemic left most offices shaken. And that has created new opportunities…We’re entering a world where the most valuable workplace competency is going to be leading without authority…But you can’t just rush in.

Tiziana Casciaro: One of the things that matters most for anybody in the organization to really sort out is the distribution of power in that environment. It’s what my co-author on this book, Power for All, Julie Battilana and I call power mapping and it has to do with exercising a great amount of observation of your surroundings to understand who [00:08:00] has that control over valued resources that we all talk about…

Power mapping is what you can do to assess the power structure in your organization…if you want to advance in the company, or you just want to bring about change.

But to do that, you have to look closely for the people who wield influence without authority because it can often be less obvious at first.

TC: And you’ll get to that by inquiring about who has done well in the environment, who has not done well? Who are the people that people flock to when they have a question when they want to explore a possibility? Who are the moral authorities [00:09:00] [00:09:30] you can also simply be very keen in checking who defers to whom in a meeting, for instance, who speaks the most, who gets a lot of follow-up when they assert something, who gets that approval from other people?

Identify the people but also learn where and what kinds of work are publicly recognized and rewarded at your company. Like writing opportunities, whether they are blogs or announcements, running internal promotions or demoing your team’s work at a company wide event.

But remember, you can’t lead alone. Whether you are a junior manager, who wants to create new ways of doing things…or a middle manager, looking to influence decision making, you have to convince others that those changes are good for them too. Tiziana says finding these potential allies and inviting them into some sort of a coalition is the way forward.

And after you do your research, it can also help to consider your own power status within the environment. The natural powers you have based on your job description, or role…and then the existing level of informal power that comes from people because they respect you, because they’ve known you a long time, because they have a good relationship with you.

Once we have that Power Map, we can begin to claim our own measure of influence..regardless of job title. What we need to know next is how all this can play out in the real world. Turns out, incredible change is possible when ordinary people start claiming their power.



Kiersten Wynter: Students were very upset, because not only were they processing the whole event, but they were also processing it online with [00:03:00] each other, and very negative comments were made back and forth in terms of who was to blame, and what was going on

Kiersten Wynter teaches at a really diverse high school in Toronto…In the Spring of 2020, her students were trying to cope with the murder of George Floyd and they were joining the Black Lives Matter movement. They were calling for change, for new ways to talk about race and racial politics…but the existing curriculum didn’t offer any solutions.

Now, Kiersten isn’t the principal of her school. But she’s someone who knows a problem when she sees one. By the old authoritative way of thinking about power and influence, she shouldn’t have been able to do anything about that problem.

Kiersten Wynter: [00:03:30] … we needed to do something, a call to action.

Since the usual “authorities” weren’t going to step up and offer something, Kiersten decided to create that needed change herself…Luckily, she wasn’t alone.

Kiersten Wynter: I’m often the only racialized person in the school that I’m in, but in this particular case [00:10:00] there were four of us, four teachers, so one male and two females, and then myself. And..the first thing that we we drafted a memorandum, and we sent that to [00:18:00] our school administrators, and it was a demand.

The demand was this: address the very real need of students by developing a Black studies curriculum to channel their fears, anger and concerns into learning. 

Not an easy thing, asking for that kind of power when you don’t have the authority–don’t have that job title–it takes guts…and hope, because, really, four teachers within a massive education system can easily get overlooked.

Kiersten Wynter: So, we mailed that off and within a few days the admin got back to us, and they were like, “Yes.” I think because of the climate, there was a lot of like climate.

By the end of summer they had what is now called the Deconstructing Anti-Black Racism in the Canadian and North American Context course. It’s a grade-twelve, university-credit course that combines history, psychology, anthropology, and Black studies.

Turned out that convincing the school board to let them create a course at their one school was fairly easy, once they stood up and asked for it. But Kiersten’s group ran into bigger problems when they tried rolling out the course to other schools. 

Kiersten Wynter Folo: it was an emotional process.

Along the way, some people warned Kiersten that she wasn’t following the usual process for these things.

Kiersten Wynter: on my own [00:33:30] I would’ve been scared, or shied away, but because we were together and we knew that we were doing it with the right intentions, that we weren’t doing anything inherently wrong, regardless of whether we were following process and protocol or not, we just continued ahead.

The perseverance paid off when another school picked it up, then five more. Then the local news started telling their story. Kiersten’s inbox was full of emails from people who wanted to know more…By the summer of 2021 the course was adopted by 43 schools across Ontario. Kiersten and her small group of teachers had discovered that they could spark massive change on their own. They already had everything they needed to influence the system.

Kiersten Wynter: it redefined my idea of what a leader is [00:38:30]…a leader is someone who sees something that’s wrong, says it doesn’t have to be this way, and then goes on to change, or fix it, or make it better.[00:45:00]

She did exactly what Tiziana suggested: she made a map of the power structure in her organization, figured out that the students had the power to demand something new that was deeply important to them at that time, and that she could band together with a group of her coworkers to make that change happen. She also knew that the administrators were the ones who needed to be convinced. And that her group had the influence to do it, but that it needed to be used wisely. Something Ron Heiffetz at the Kennedy School described for us last year.

RH: So, [00:18:00] the artistry of leadership, then, has a lot to do with the framing of the issue that you’re going to raise, the sequencing of the issue, how much do you challenge people, how quickly over time, the pacing of it, breaking it into smaller pieces, and also the who. Who do you talk to first? And who should you talk to second and third and fourth? In order to begin to socialize the people around you to embrace this [00:18:30] whatever perspective you represent and to work that perspective without having an allergic reaction and then spitting it out and maybe also damaging your own credibility or job in the process.



So! We need to get out of the headspace where we think about workplaces as hierarchies of authority, and shift to thinking about them as networks of influence. Once we reframe things like that, we can strategize about how to insert ourselves into that network. We can step up and create change. And we also know that influence really takes off when it’s focused on larger, communal values, instead of selfish pursuits. The final piece of the puzzle is figuring out how to build the relationships that all of this depends on. How do you create a broader network of influence that grows out of the group’s authentic needs?

LH: If you don’t ever want to get promoted or you don’t ever want to become a matter what your workplace is like, you’re probably going to want to change it in the future. [00:44:30]

Lara Hogan has held senior roles at Kickstarter and Etsy.

Lara Hogan: with a lot of people who know that they want to enact some sort of change within their organization but they just can’t seem to get folks to listen or care about it and they find themselves stuck. Like obviously this issue is so important…why is everybody nodding and agreeing but then doing nothing? [00:02:30]

Her solution is to focus less on convincing people, and instead figure out how to help them expand their power and influence. It can seem counterintuitive, but by doing it, all boats rise with the tide including yours.

So here are the three skills she suggests: mentorship, coaching and sponsorship.

Lara Hogan: mentorship is sharing your advice, sharing your perspective, sharing what you’ve seen work and not work, suggesting some things that this person can try.

Mentorship is teaching people things.

LH: Mentorship helps people get unblocked, mentorship helps people get unstuck. But where the growth happens comes from sponsorship and other skills like coaching. [00:16:30]

LH: [00:34:30] What coaching boils down to is asking lots of open questions to help the other person that you’re talking to connect their own dots, develop their own brain wrinkles, kind of explore the problems  without you just telling them what you think that they should do.

Coaching is asking people things.

LH: This means that anybody, [00:35:00] matter your seniority, your tenure, your experience, anybody can ask really curious questions to other people. The act of doing so actually unlocks so much more for that person.

LH: My number one favorite question to ask is, “What are you optimizing for?” Because in any situation it applies, someone has a conflict with someone else, I might ask, “All right cool, in this conversation with this person, what are you optimizing for?” They’ll sit back and say, “Huh,” That’s a coaching moment, that’s a beautiful thing you’ve just unlocked for that person, that’s leadership….

Coaching is a way to practice leadership but it’s also a way to demonstrate leadership skills.

LH: I’ve had plenty of moments where I’m in a room, I’m in a one-on-one with an executive [00:38:30] and I was not an executive, and they’re telling me about this challenge and this team and they really need my team to work on it. And if I ask them one coaching question and they sit back and be like, “Huh”, I have just blown their minds just by the act of asking a really good coaching question. That’s leadership.

But Lara says sponsorship is where you really start to spread influence.

Lara Hogan: Sponsorship is feeling on the hook to help pull someone else up the ladder, to help get someone else more visibility that they really deserve, access to work on visible and developmental assignments. The idea here is that we are putting our own reputation on the line on behalf of this person that you’re trying to give more opportunities and more visibility to. [00:11:00]

Sponsorship is where you go from teaching and asking to championing.

LH: Sponsorship is absolutely an act of leadership. [00:15:00]

LH: So often when I talk to folks, they think that only managers can be sponsors. Because obviously only managers can give promotions and raises and maybe assign work. Anytime you see that there’s an opportunity to vouch for somebody or their work or suggest someone’s name when it comes to assigning work, [00:11:30] a big visible project. Or even just helping other people around your organization know more about the really good work that someone you know is doing, that’s all sponsorship. And sponsorship can be super small too, making an important introduction for someone or inviting them to shadow you at an important meeting.

But the obvious question is why talk up someone else when it’s you who wants more power.

Lara Hogan: [12:00] …. In a good sponsor relationship, everybody wins. That person is doing good work and you referring them makes you look really good.

It actually positions you as a leader in your organization. And there’s a side benefit when it comes to your workload.

LH [00:13:00] And so if we’re trying to do everything ourselves, if we’re trying to collect all of the different projects, have our work on all of the assignments, there’s no way that we’re going to do it effectively. So leadership really is about making sure that we’re connecting the right people with the right work in part and making sure that those people are okay. Sponsorship is all those things wrapped up into one. [00:13:30]

Think of the incredible network of influence you’re building along the way. That network will come in handy the more power you get.

LH: if people aren’t thinking really sky’s the limit and who can do this work, you’re going to be just stuck with the same people who have been deputized to do that work to continue to do it. So you want to build your bench, your leadership bench, and you want to really invest in the people that are greener. [00:42:30] Sponsorship is honestly the most impactful way that you as an organization [00:42:30] can support them and lift up their names and make sure that they get access to learning the new skills that they need to be successful further down the line.

This goes back to what Tiziana Casciaro meant when she talked about leading for and with other people, all of you moving toward a collective goal. But let’s get specific. How do you make sponsorship work? We start by choosing someone who needs it.

Lara Hogan: [00:18:30] I recommend thinking about the list of people you can sponsor in terms of who has less power or privilege than you do…Maybe they’re newer to the company, maybe they’re a member of a minoritized group. Just start to think about all of the different ways that the people within your organization might have less implicit power or privilege or explicit power or privilege, and that’s a pretty good starting place.

Yeah, people from traditionally underrepresented groups don’t always get the sponsorship they need, but when they do, it makes a huge difference.

LH: There’s all of these incredible studies about how members of minoritized communities get so much further in their careers, have [00:20:30] more opportunities, get more compensation, just so many different things, get more access to stretch assignments when they have a sponsor. The data’s there, it’s our job to make sure that we’re doing the work.

Next: we’re designing that alliance. It can be formal, with quarterly check-ins, or something more casual. And while you’re figuring out the nature of your relationship, you’re also going to figure out how the person you’re sponsoring actually wants to grow.

Lara Hogan: [17:30] …. One of the pitfalls we want to avoid is sponsoring someone for something that they don’t want to do, that they’ve got no interest in doing. Public speaking comes to mind, a lot of people are terrified of public speaking. So number one, get to know the ways in which they want to grow. [00:18:00] And in that same conversation, start to get a better understanding of the work that they’ve been doing so you can vouch for it. What have they been working on? What have the results been? What has been the positive impact to the business? All that stuff.

And then collaborate with them.

LH: Come up with a way to word connecting the person with the opportunity that works for the both of you. So as an example, let’s say you want to send their manager feedback. [00:24:00] Write yourself a draft fake email to their manager and send it to the person that you’re sponsoring to make sure that it feels right and then save that for yourself some way. That way you can just copy and paste it any time you’ve seen something that this person is doing that is incredible and impactful and you want to make sure that their manager knows about it.

Finally, we need to make sure we’re actually showing up for this person.

Lara Hogan: It’s so easy for this kind of work to fall by [00:22:30] the wayside. Everybody’s different, everybody likes to be held accountable differently. For me, calendar reminders are really useful in my day to day work life.

What’s amazing about sponsorship is that it’s all about long-term growth. You’re planting seeds. And the people you’ ve helped are going to pay that forward. That’s real power. Before you know it, you’ve helped to shape not just one project, or one company policy. You’ve helped to shape the ethos, the culture, of the whole company.

Lara Hogan: This is the biggest way that people who do not have explicit power or authority can enact the change that they want to see. If you don’t have complete control over the thing that you want to change, influence is it. Influence is your path forward to enacting that change.

Real influence–real power–doesn’t come from a position or a title. It’s claimed, every day, by people who see that something needs to change and that they can make that change happen. It might be something about the workplace culture, it might be a policy, it might be something concrete like a project strategy. But there are opportunities to influence your organization everywhere.

Make that power-map, discover what matters to your team; you can mark out areas of expertise; you can lift others up. In that way, leadership, power, influence, whatever you call it, is a team effort. It’s all about genuinely caring about the success of others. If you can do that, you’ll end up with more influence. And, by the way, that also makes work a lot more interesting.


Thanks for listening. I’m Sonia Kang. And this is For The Love of Work, an original podcast made possible by Rogers. Find us at…for the love of work dot c-a. Talk soon.