Develop Your Power Skills

Relationship Power and The Enterprise (part 3): The Source of Power

Oct 02, 2022
The Source of Power


The more efficient and plentiful one’s collaborations in this information age, the more impact we can have on our respective playing fields and, as a result, the more money a person might earn. Whether they admit it or not, people value power and influence at work more than they value money. Wielded correctly, the use of power can be a very constructive tool.

But power can have a negative aspect, too. Unfortunately, a great deal of workplace behavior is in the pursuit of power for its own sake, and if the negative aspect of power is allowed to fester, a toxic working environment results. Giving in to power’s dark side does nothing, in the end, to get you what you want. We end up burning bridges, possibilities, and opportunities. As an executive I know once put it, “Time wounds all heels.”

So what is the real potential of power? How is it best cultivated and solidified?

Power, quite simply, is one’s ability to cause an event to happen or not to happen, to get things done (or not). Power is derived from the formation and management of relationships. It can even shape others’ perceptions and interpretations of events, leading us in effective directions, pointing the way. Ultimately, power equals control, offering predictability and greater input into decisions. The influencing of decisions is itself the highest state of personal influence. We typically associate power with those individuals who have it whether by virtue of their own charisma or by the delegation or legislation of that power. As happened often in the company of both Captain Kirk and Ulysses, power can also be shared and/or transferred from one person to another.

Everyone instinctively recognizes and respects power, though this does not mean they necessarily approve of it. Likewise, when someone with the power to act refuses to use it, an uncomfortable void results and new dynamics intervene. When a business leader creates the impression he might not use his power, he surrenders it!

The Walt Disney Corporation, back in the late sixties, was a case in point. Following their creative founder’s death in 1966, the com­pany nearly passed with him. For two decades, top managers at Disney couldn’t conceive of anyone filling Uncle Walt’s shoes, so they did relatively little risk-taking with the company. Few innovations were tried, no new initiatives put forth.

As a result, mainstays of American culture, such as Disney’s weekly television program, one of the longest running shows in TV history, were canceled and Disneyland, badly in need of revamping, went quickly downhill. By the time Michael Eisner took the reins, in 1984, people had stopped following or caring about the pronounce­ments of Disney’s “leaders.”

“People here are dying for leadership,” new CEO Eisner said at the time, “and they’re dying to get to work. If Walt were still alive and ideas had continued to flow out of his mind, Disney would have had no problem.” Lesson: Real power demands real action.

People who have the most power are those who seize it and then employ it constructively. Proper positioning and self-promotion of one’s ideas, for example, through informal networks is a very effective power builder. Those who understand this idea also know that strong research skills and the ability to gather business intelligence will enhance both their relationship and position power. They also know that much power can be gained through knowledge and information. Most people, however, carry out this perception either poorly or inappropriately, often because they are not properly trained to do primary research.

Many people will even avoid increasing their power because they are too busy seeking approval. They would rather be loved than be powerful. But sometimes business leaders must settle for being respected and sometimes feared instead of loved. Winning their people’s love is usually not in their job descriptions. Winning their respect is!

All power has a source. Narrow sources can be identified, modified, or undermined. A broad power base takes energy to build and maintain but is difficult to topple. It is also a very portable asset. The implications of this for business leaders can be enormous. As life can be very lonely at the top, a broad web of advisory and professional relationships outside the company can make it bearable. It is unhealthy, not to mention unnecessary, for leaders to endure the disappointments and isolation that occur naturally when they rely too much on internal supports. Relationships on the outside will bolster their psychological health, helping them do the job, and affirming their power.

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