The Principle of Authority – A Rule for Your Success

e f hutton“When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”. Check out the YouTube video.  I’m sure you’ve seen commercials where a doctor, dentist, athlete or a celebrity has recommended a product. This is the principle of authority at work, suggesting, if doctors, dentist or E.F. Hutton recommends it, well, it must be worth having. Knowing how to use this same principle can add to your success as well.

When people interact with others who are in a position of authority we often feel a duty or obligation to comply with their requests. It’s a very powerful influential principle and should not be taken lightly. At the same time, if used appropriately if can lead to great success.

First, don’t confuse the authority approach of, “Because I’m your supervisor, mom, dad, etc”. Of course that is the principle of authority at work as well, and by virtue of your role as parent or boss it works, although not always and here is why. The principle of authority is based primarily on perception, if others believe you to be knowledgeable, trustworthy, wise . . . and you look the part, you will most likely have the ability to influence their decision/behavior. This is why you seem to have no influence with your teenage child. They think they know everything, you know nothing, and their BFF is THE expert on relationships and fashion. The same holds true for the rest of us, it’s the dentists who recommend toothpaste, the doctors who recommend diet pills, supplements and other pharmaceuticals, and athletes who recommend fitness equipment. Job titles, uniforms, and even accessories, like the way we dress, and the cars we drive lend an air of authority and can persuade others to accept what you say. Like it or not you are being judged. If someone doesn’t know you, they will often judge you in a blink of an eye, a millisecond, based on what they initially see or hear.

Certainly you’ve accomplished requests made of you simply because it was your boss who asked. But what if it’s your boss you are looking to influence, or your colleague, a customer, or an entire community? “Because I said so.”, probably isn’t going to work. When I was the physical security officer for my unit in Germany (pre 9-11), I had this crazy idea that when we would deploy for military exercises, instead of loading up my security team into jeeps and trucks, I was going to procure a military helicopter and escort our convoys by air. Although my fellow lieutenants jeered me for even thinking the leadership would allow this, much less be able to get my hands on an H-53 helicopter, using my previous background as a Pararescueman, familiar with helicopter deployment operations, as well as the logistics associated with scheduling aircraft, I easily persuaded my leadership to allow it, and the flying unit I approached to support it. Why did it work? a.) I had proven myself in the position of security officer with much smaller tasks and responsibilities, b.) My leadership was aware of my Pararescue background and experiences, sometimes formally, sometimes informally through “war stories”. c.) I introduced myself to the flying unit Director of Operations as a prior Pararescueman (if you are not familiar with USAF Pararescue, I invite you to Google it and search on YouTube for further understanding and why this helped to establish my authority). And d.) I approached them all with a high degree of confidence and professionalism.
Going forward, if you are going to use the principle of authority to influence others, consider these points:

1. Know your job better than anyone else (Rule # 5 Create your own niche, Rule # 6 Make it look easy)

2. Dress the part ( Rule # 7 Know you are being judged, Rule # 13 Dress for success)

3. Be trustworthy (Rule # 10 Live by a set of rules, Rule # 20 Don’t gossip)

4. Convey confidence (Rule # 8 Cultivate a firm handshake, Rule #14 Know what you want, Rule # 43 Don’t let the insecurities of others affect your dreams)

5. Take 100% responsibility for your actions (Rule # 21 Don’t Whine, Rule # 32 Never Lie, Rule #38 Never stop learning)

6. Monitor your emotions (Rule # 39 Practice quieting the mind)

7. If speaking to others who may not know you, attempt to have someone else edify you. (Rule # 30 Maintain a successes portfolio)

8. If you are not the expert, find the person(s) who is/are to champion your cause.

You can access the Rules listed above by going to our website www.LdiWorld.com and clicking on the Success Rules tab.  Sign up for our newsletters and you will receive the newest rule directly into your inbox.

Finally, if you want to learn more about the science of influence, I highly recommend an expert blogger and speaker on the subject of influence, Brian Ahearn. I especially recommend his recent series on applying the principles of influence with different personalities. Click the link to read and subscribe to Brian’s blog.

Be Extraordinary!




Anthony Tormey

Founder & President

Leader Development Institute

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Great post, Anthony! I just finished Cialdini’s book, “Influence” – http://www.amazon.com/Influence-Psychology-Persuasion-Revised-Edition/dp/006124189X – great read that confirms much of what you recommend above with research.

Two things that contribute to authority, regardless of your title:

1) Decisiveness
2) Thoughtfulness

Those two are actually held in tension because the first suggests immediate action while the second is connected to deliberation and delay. If you can find a way to strike the right balance between those two poles, you gain authority and respect.

Anthony Tormey

Andrew, thank you for reading the post and sharing a comment. I participated in a 5 day Power of Persuasion workshop by a good friend and colleague who is not only an incredible trainer, but is one of the few Cialdini certified facilitators in the US. It can be pricey, but if you are ever looking for a speaker/trainer on the subject, he’d be a lot more affordable than Cialdini himself. Let me know.