Sunday, 15 January 2012

Power: Grab It or Live in Mediocrity


I know it can for some be a difficult topic however, without power you really will live a small life.

The best place to start with thinking about power is to at least understand where your power can come from. A number of well-known management “gurus” have written about power and I can remember many years ago having to do a paper on it for a management course I was on. Well the world may have changed, however the basic rules of being powerful have not. It is generally agreed there are five sources of personal power and they, under various guises are listed below. with a brief explanation of what they entail.

One: Formal, legitimate, delegated, authority or position power

This form of power comes from an individual’s designated role and the role's relative status within the organization. Commonly this power entails the right to organise people and resources. As this form power is conferred by the organization if the position or role is lost so is the power. At its worst this can manifest itself as negative power as the holder has the capacity to stop, delay or disrupt the actions of others.  This negative power usually used by those that feel they have no other source of control and is an often expression of anger, frustration, low morale or poor self esteem. A similar form or formal power is sometimes known a sanction power or reward - coercion power. This covers an individual's capability to use incentives or issue threats to control people’s behaviour. Rewards are offered to those who comply and punishment or deprivation threatened for non-compliance. This power can be demonstrated as naked aggression or more indirectly as pressure exerted through the threat of or actual removal of status, privileges or even financial rewards.

Two: Expert power:

Expert power is based on the specialised knowledge or skills that an individual has which can be contributed or withheld. Generally, individuals are positive about being lead, or at least influenced, by those whom they regard as ‘an expert’. This form of power is "comparative" and the holder of this type of power is always under threat from other "experts". Expert power is often based around a very narrow bank of knowledge, skills or competence and can be short lived as time passes and technology or techniques evolve. It is a reality that someone will always come along who knows more than you do in a particular area.

Three: Information or communication power

This power is derived from being able to control the flow of information, or to be able to edit and be selective about what is passed on, e.g. from senior management to team members, or even a secretary to a boss or other managers/staff. "The information may be horizontal, to be shared with colleagues, or vertical, to be passed up or down through a formal organisational structure". This type of power is often linked with position power, however those with little formal authority, clerks, secretaries and receptionists, can exert information power. I have seen customer and supplier files withheld or even destroyed by individuals that were under operational pressure in an attempt to stave off the control of a situation which was threatening to staff that were acting in an unethical manner.

Four: Connection or as I was taught it "referent" power:

Referent power comes about as a result of an individual’s ability to control or use access to influential people through formal networks or associations. Additionally as people/employees increasingly extend their circle of influence or information sources through involvement in informal networks their power can increase. Networks and hierarchies that operate independently of more formal organisational structures can often compete with, or even be more influential than the official company structure.

Five: Personal power or personal attractiveness

This type of power results from an individual’s own personal qualities or ‘charisma’.  People will often undertake a particular action or behave in particulars ways because they admire and like the individual holding the power. Some believe that this type o power is built up through "being reliable, trustworthy, honest and likeable". This view is obviously limited in its explanation as charisma and what it is is not something that automatically comes with behavior alone. The personal attractiveness part of this equation can also obviously be lost as we age or as our ability to attract others through 'positive' personality may be diminished. Suffice to say if you want to develop this type of power in yourself you will need to do the best you can with how you look, present yourself, personal confidence levels, how well you communicate and your natural personal traits.

What is power about and what are the benefits and pitfalls

According to Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State University and co-author of a study on power:  “Powerful people have confidence in what they are thinking. Whether their thoughts are positive or negative toward an idea, that position is going to be hard to change,” This of course can be both a benefit and a shortcoming and you, if you hold power, can risk missing opportunities to grow and develop through the arrogance of total self-belief.

Abraham Lincoln said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." So if you seek power, beware of the almost inevitable personal consequences to your thought processes and even your very existence.

Amy Tan "You see what power is - holding someone else's fear in your hand and showing it to them!" Reality succinctly put perhaps!

I was once told that: 'for power to exist you must have control over something that is limited in supply and that considered valuable by those over whom you want hold power'. This as we have seen above can be technical skills, information or even a willingness to have an ongoing relationship.

So if you are seeking power be advised you must develop all five areas otherwise your time in control will be but a fleeting moment and the process of losing power can be a terminal event.

All too hard you think, so much time, so much to learn, so much politics. Can I suggest if your ignore the five points of power you can have, or even rely on just one or two your life will not be your own and you will end up as puppet of those around you.

By the way, power is rarely given… you must stand up and take it.