The way in which leaders and managers use their power is a key driver of an organization's culture, and thus, success. By nature of having a title such as "manager" or "supervisor" individuals are granted degrees of power. This is known as positional power, which was introduced as one of the five bases of power in the early 1960s by psychologists John French and Bertram Raven.
Leaders who struggle with the acquisition of power often respond in one of two ways: 1) ignore it and act as if they do not have it or 2) exploit it in abusive or corrupt ways.
Both of these responses negatively impact the workforce. The first leaves staff confused and anxious wondering "who's steering the ship?". Managers who ignore or refuse to accept that they have power, often are not aware of the impact that their words and behaviors have on their staff. Even subtle facial expressions from a person with positional power can change the trajectory of someone's day. Denying that you have power when you have it does more harm than good - especially to those who expect you to use your power to help them succeed.
Interestingly, managers and leaders who express their power through aggressive, abusive behaviors are also often not aware of the actual impact they are having on the organization and its people. These managers are often using their power to control others - as well as gain more power for themselves. This leads to compliance rather than commitment and a workforce that is more concerned about avoiding punishment than they are concerned about doing well.
The goal of managers should be to recognize and leverage their positional power to positively influence and empower their people.
Here are some key steps for reaching this goal:
Own Your Responsibility. Recognize that with your position comes a certain degree of power, and with that is a responsibility to use that power to help your people and the organization succeed. Internalizing this truth is necessary for leaders to effectively employ their power.
Tips: Talk to other leaders about their experience with their positional power. Consider how you perceive the power of your superiors; how do they use that power, and what impact does it have on your behavior?
Understand Your Impact. Having positional power makes your words and actions highly impactful, particularly to your direct reports. Knowing how you affect others allows you to then use yourself as a tool to help others grow and develop - to influence people and the organization.
Tips: Reflect on your behaviors and the reactions of those around you. Ask peers and leaders for feedback on the impact you had in a meeting. Record yourself and then review it, consider how you would respond to you.
Empower Others. Invest significant amounts of energy into developing relationships with your people. Through knowing them and understanding them - and then validating them - you will empower them. Provide staff with the communication, motivation, direction, and approach they need to succeed. As a leader, your success is measured by the success of your team. Do what is needed to help each individual win.
Tips: Make time to regularly meet with each staff. Get to know their personal goals, where do they want to be, and figure out how you can help them get there. Go out of your way to make sure they feel seen and heard. Adjust how you approach each person to provide them with what they need to be successful.
Dr. Casey Lankow