Connect with us


Surviving the Frontier: Influence Without Authority in the Organizational Wild West



Wild West

Let me begin by stating that the wild west isn’t all bad. There are truly beautiful moments that come from being on a team where you are all building from the ground up and riding through the desert together. The adventure and excitement of seeing the work of your hands is part of what draws people to the wild west culture. On the other hand, the rough and unbroken terrain of the wild west presents different challenges that can impede basic survival. These obstacles include lack of processes, policy, shotgun communication styles and/or the allowance of aggressive territorial behavior. In some ecosystems, these types of organizational issues have the potential to do more harm than good, especially if the organization lacks a solid internal HR infrastructure.

It’s important to reflect on why this concept of influence without authority is vital to our everyday lives. In her article called “Millennials Aren’t Afraid To Change Jobs, And Here’s Why,” Forbes contributor Sarah Landrum wrote, “One CareerBuilder survey shared employers expect 45% of their newly hired college grads would remain with the company for under two years, and the study showed that by age 35, about 25% of young employees would have worked five jobs.”

The millennial generation is struggling when it comes to choosing a fight or flight. We as millennials have failed to understand the power of influence in our daily professional lives.

So what do we do? Well, let me start with a story…

Imagine a starry night and the cowboys and cowgirls have gathered around the campfire after a long day on the range to swap stories. Why stories? Stories are the vessels that take us on our journeys and carry us to faraway places. Storytelling is a powerful tool that transcends cultural boundaries and spurs people to adventure, play or restitution. We find hope, deliverance, faith and even freedom in stories. I firmly believe that stories have the power to change lives.

Here are a few things I would talk about around the nightly fires that burn in the organizational wild west. Let us remember the story of the great Titanic.

At 11.40pm on the night of 14 April 1912, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, the RMS Titanic struck the iceberg that would ultimately lead to the sinking of the ship less than 3 hours later. At around 2.20am on the morning of 15 April, the Titanic disappeared beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, a disaster that resulted in the loss of more than 1,500 lives, almost two-thirds of the people on board. 

What if someone on board the Titanic was able to influence Captain Smith to slow down the ship? The art of influence without authority can save, an organization or even life. It’s easy to quickly develop a “Titanic” mentality but the solution can’t always be “down with the ship!” Incremental change through evangelism is always possible. Learning how to navigate conflict and become a person of influence with or without an authoritative license, cultivates leadership skills that are necessary to succeed in today’s workforce.

Now, we begin our adventure into the great unknown of the organizational wild west.

Chapter 1: The Organizational Wild West: Exploring the Wild West Ecosystem

There are many pros and cons to working in a wild west environment and it comes down to knowing what the best organizational ecosystem is that you will thrive in.

Agility – The wild west culture often promotes agility. Agile organizations are less bogged down by bulky policies and layers of middle management. You can often progress projects and implement new policies and/or practices faster. Gritty Gun Slinging – When conflict happens in the wild west it can rise very quickly due to the stressful environment. Everyone is fighting for survival here.
Honest Atmosphere – Authentic conversations are common in the wild west. There’s no time to beat around the bush. Lack of Accountability – Often times the person with the most firepower wins the territory in the wild west.
The broad range of responsibilities enhances skills quickly. You can test your fortitude and build a broad array of skills in the wild west very easily. There’s no one else to do it but you! Lack of Processes – Internal infrastructure in the wild west is usually lacking. Building formal processes and policies that don’t get outlawed can be cumbersome.
Informal – The casualness of the wild west atmosphere can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s great to be able to talk and dress in a relaxed fashion but sometimes internally this can cause issues when it becomes too informal. People tend to forget policies and common professional behavior in these instances.
Community – Cowgirls and cowboys often build long-lasting relationships in the wild west. Being dependent on your team for each other’s survival forges long-lasting relationships and professional alliances. Schoolyard Governance – This style of governance is the result of rushed and maybe even lazy leadership practices. It’s the ‘if one of you screws up then you all get punished’ mentality. Many times blanket policies that attempt to cover all sins are born out of this.
Competence is often measured intuitively and is based on personal opinion. Measuring competence using an intuitive based measurement can be fun if it works out but the lack of structure will confuse those that are not meeting expectations.


  • Explore the power of influence in your professional life.
  • Influence is very different than persuasion. It’s about rallying people behind a unified vision that benefits everyone involved.
  • Assess your current organizational ecosystem and find ways to enhance it.
  • If you are working in a wild west style organization, be sure to fully utilize the advantages.

This is only the beginning!  Keep an eye out for additional articles in my organizational wild west series. We’ll dive into the rules of engagement within the conflict, methods to identify organizational needs, key sources of bargaining power, the art of evangelism, the danger of explosive leadership and much more. Stay tuned!

Tephra Miriam is an avid thought leader, author of middle-grade novel 'Escape to Clown Town', graphic artist, photographer, musician, activist and entrepreneur with a passion for change. Tephra grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and moved to Chicago, Illinois when she was 18 years old, where she currently resides. Her search for adventure took her far and wide at a young age and she continues to mentor, learn, work and speak all over the US. Tephra is a firm believer of redefining the way we think and live. She is a wellness advocate and often blogs on organizational development, challenging the status quo and creating a holistic work environment. Tephra believes that creating space in your life to play, imagine and dream is vital in problem solving, stress management and innovation. As a product of 12 years of homeschooling, Tephra started out at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois before transferring to DePaul University and receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Global Communications and a Master of Arts degree in Applied Professional Studies with a concentration in Authorship and Entrepreneurialism.