Power is a fundamental challenge any new manager will face. They have been promoted internally and one or more colleagues were passed over for the same role. They have shifted from being a member of the team to being their designated leader. Some of these managers seamlessly transition into their new role and move from strength to strength. Many more struggle, stumble, fall, learn a lot and in some cases end up moving on.
Does this sound familiar? Which were you?
I was the latter, and it took me a while to understand why. It was only when I started running and designing leadership programmes in the UK that I recognised my flaw – a flaw I saw played out time and again in the new managers I met along the way. It all came down to our relationship with power.
In western society our relationship to power can be complicated to say the least. As we grow up many of us come to view power as a negative attribute – we associate power with the abuse of power. We forget that power dynamics naturally occur, and that power is a complicated trait made up of many facets. Some of us only learn about one form of power, and wield it mercilessly – I am the son of a military officer and a teacher – you might be able to guess some of the mistakes I have made.
We need to redefine our relationship with power and our understanding of how it works. We need to examine this relationship from multiple sides – if you are a manager, but deny you have power you are only fooling yourself. The question is: What is it?
I came across the following ‘Sources of Power’ in Julia Middleton’s book Beyond Authority: Leadership In A Changing World. I like this description of power, because it doesn’t try to moralise, rather simply explains that there is no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ power. There are ways in which we obtain or are given power and then there are ways that we use it (the good or the bad).
Rather than moralising I am trying to help us understand ways that we can influence others more effectively. For example as a parent you can tell your child to take a bath – your position as a parent allows that. However when choosing a place to eat with friends, you may find you have to negotiate and lobby for your choice – this involves different sources of power than you would rely on as a parent.
When reading the list below think about what sources of power you might use to convince your friends?
1. The Power of Position: This comes with the position you hold, that you were appointed or elected to, or that you have created for yourself. A leader is less likely to be able to call upon their position when leading change and will have less access to the resources and authority that comes with it.
2. The Power of Personality: This comes from your strength of character, your “pizzazz,” the energy you generate around you because of who you are as a person.
3. The Power of Ideas: This is acquired through the quality of your ideas, your creativity. Leading change requires leaders to deal with greater levels of complexity and uncertainty. In doing so, much of their power will come from the ability to generate new ideas that connect with diverse groups of people.
4. The Power to Communicate: This is your ability to get across an idea or message in a way which resonates with people, both individually and in groups. For example, communication will become increasingly important when people are not obliged to work with or for you. The need to be able to communicate a clear direction, listen to many and varied people and be able to resonate with people will allow a leader to build greater support.
5. The Power to Connect: This is the power you gain if you are able to see connections and overlaps and use your networks to bring all the pieces together.
6. The Power to Invest: Money talks. This power comes if you can invest resources or cash.
7. The Power to Reward: This comes from your ability to reward people financially or through recognition. Part of this power is also the freedom to remove people from situations where they are not succeeding.
It is not an exhaustive list, and you don’t have to agree with the sources of power – it is an interesting tool for examining how or why people give us power. Failing to recognise your own power comes with its own risks and can lead to consistent career frustration. Using power can bring risks too, but understanding the power you have, where it comes from and how others may respond to it will make you a more dynamic and enjoyable leader. You may also find your team responding to you more positively. It will also help you when you lead in situations where your job title doesn’t automatically mean people will follow you. Developing other means for inspiring others whilst working with you will become crucial.