Owning your Power: Effective Dynamics in the Workplace (Part 2)

Business woman working on laptop computer at officeLast week we examined the idea of relinquishing power and trusting others. It’s important that that as a manager, the greatest thing you can do is to establish a working relationship built on respect. It’s not letting go when you relinquish power, it’s allowing others the opportunity and space to shine. Remember that sometimes, a lighter touch will go further with your colleagues. Instead of demanding something, ask for it. Instead of directing a discussion, simply offer your opinion. Make an extra effort to express your appreciation to those around you. In other situations, you will need to assert your position with full intentionality, and accept the fact that not everyone will be content with your decision.

The process of settling into this new dynamic with your colleagues is rarely comfortable. If you feel like a fraud, don’t worry: you’re not. The “impostor syndrome” is a well-documented and common phenomenon where high-achievers fear being “found out” as something less. Your colleagues can see your strengths, even if you can’t. There’s a reason why you’ve gotten to where you are. It might feel uncomfortable or unnatural at first, but everything will fall into place once you’ve recognized and accepted your power. The challenge now is to harness your power constructively.

Power isn’t easy. Push too hard, and you’re overbearing. Be too chummy, and people will whisper that you’re not up to task. There is no neutral: get used to the reality that everything you do will be scrutinized and interpreted for better or worse…or for worse and worse.

Every leader attains more power through his or her journey, but not all recognize it immediately. When you do, you’ll need to reconcile the gap between your self-perception and your rightful role. Once you’ve internalized your power, it’s simply a matter of making a few small shifts to start seeing seismic results.

Owning your Power: Effective Dynamics in the Workplace (Part 1)

Business manager with employees in backgroundWith the unusual ability to bridge sales and execution teams, Bill quickly rose through the corporate ranks at a global company. When the time came to elevate his work to match his new SVP title, he found himself consumed by lower-level tasks in his old department.

Bill was afraid of giving up his familiar role—he was damn good at it. Once he understood his fear, he gave up micromanaging and entrusted others to fulfill his old job. When he learned to let go, he gained the greater vision to truly lead.

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A significant part of effective leadership is learning to relinquish control and trust the dynamic of the team you’ve built. Subsequently, one of the hardest parts about stepping into a new role is the daunting task of molding those relationships and that trust between colleagues so that you are able to focus on the bigger picture. Staying in tune with the attitudes and responses of those around you will help immensely in your quest to optimize your role as their leader.

Oftentimes, external validation from your peers is much subtler than you’d expect, making it hard to judge their perception of you as a leader. However, you can keep an eye out for cues in their behavior that can tell you the level of respect you command, and the subsequent power you hold.

For you, external expectations from your peers will shift, often without warning. People will assume you have the answers, and they will act on your words. Colleagues will attach themselves to you and look to you for guidance. These are all natural, good things, assuming you can notice the change and adapt appropriately. For most executives, adapting is easy—once they grow conscious of the need.

The more power you have, the greater impact your actions make, so be mindful of how you relate to others with this new-found influence. If you’re looking for an end-all be-all approach to leadership, you’re wasting your time. Flexibility in how you respond to people and situations will quite suddenly become the most important tool in your arsenal when you are given heightened responsibility.

Owning Your Power: Awareness and Authority (Part 1)

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”

Cheerful team of business people in the meeting room with the bo-Shakespeare, Henry IV, 1597

 As general manager at a tech company, Mary (renamed for anonymity) was in line for a big promotion. But one thing stood in her way: an influential higher-up—let’s call him Bob—was not too fond of her. Or so she thought.

In reality, Bob found Mary talented, sharp, and invaluable. But he agreed that there was one thing standing in her way: herself. Mary simply wasn’t asserting her authority—in meetings, with her direct reports…to anyone. In effect, she needed to recognize and own her power.

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We are all well aware that power changes things. That’s not a premise dipped in ego; it’s a reality that escapes many ascendant executives. Power changes how you’re thought of, how you’re treated, and, crucially, what’s expected from you.

We are probably less aware of the more subtle changes that power brings. As your role and responsibilities grow within an organization, the mantle of power can settle gently, almost imperceptibly. You may not recognize it, but the people around you certainly will.

In order to manipulate this change as one for the better, you have to learn how to own your power and shift the dynamic in your favor. This means recognizing and internalizing your power, as well as changing your behavior to reflect your new responsibility. First you need to understand how it happens, notice when it’s happening, and take action to be a better leader.

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How does power come to settle on your shoulders? It can happen gradually. A need emerges, and you take it on. You learn a skill, command a project, and claim even more responsibility. Over time, your reputation, your skill set, and your power all grow. Power can also manifest in a sudden or unexpected way–perhaps something changes, resulting in a promotion. Maybe your skills and contacts become more valuable due to a shift in market circumstances.

It’s also important to realize that while a corner office and generous pay raise are clear enough signs, newly attained power is rarely so obvious. One model of power famously posited by French and Raven states that power derives from six sources: 1) the threat of punishment, 2) the promise of a payoff, 3) titles and positions, 4) personal charisma, 5) extensive knowledge, and 6) persuasive facts and arguments.

Because we don’t usually examine our performance from an outside perspective, it’s often extremely difficult for people to recognize their own power. Despite a new title or salary (extrinsic changes), people often feel as though they haven’t changed intrinsically

Fostering a sense of self-awareness is crucial to your success as a leader, as is learning to read those around you for signs of a paradigm shift. Recognizing your power is the first step to owning it, and the way you handle that authority once you’ve identified it will make all the difference in your performance. Our next blog will delve further into the notion of how to own your power in the workplace by creating an effective dynamic with your colleagues.