Power – You want some? Read me first.
“Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us consider how happy those are who already possess it.” Philip Meyer The Son.
I was genuinely quite moved by that quote when I was reading the quite excellent novel The Son by Philip Meyer last week. It captures so much, especially in terms of how we perceive and want so much in life. In our careers this is never truer than when we think about and desire power; do we really understand it though or is it just a thing to have? A badge if you will that says “look at me, look what I have, aren’t I clever, therefore you must respect me.”
I have worked with many people over the years and watched them develop in their roles, and they all have one thing in common, whether they are working in retail, catering, the law or media, once they have the ‘manager’ badge, or the ‘director’ badge something changes. It is almost like they forget they are people, that suddenly the job title defines them. It escapes me where I saw it, but recently someone mentioned that if you look behind the business card what are you left with? Simple isn’t it?
Power plays a big role in this, and yet very few people are familiar with any form of understanding about what power actually is. French and Raven talk a lot about the origins of power, be it coercive, authoritative, legitimate to name a few and these need to be understood to get a footing into what type of power one has. For example, we all fall on our knees in submission when a plumber or electrician explains that we need blah blah blah blah blah (that is what is sounds like to us) and we nod away in agreement at their expertise, this is ‘expert’ power. We would obey without question a policeman or woman who came into a room and told us to stand against a wall as they have the ‘authoritive’ power to do so. In business where a job title such as manager or director is given, it is done legitimately, or so we think. We see that someone is Director of this or that, or Manager of something or other and expect them to know what they are talking about and be capable of delivery. Often though this is not the case. Some people just find themselves in this position by default, they wouldn’t choose to do it but something in their role has compelled them to take it. This legitimate form of power is awarded in a flawed way and creates no end of problems for the recipient as often the very simplest of managerial responsibilities are abdicated away to H.R. This phenomenon happens due to one key reason that is wed quite closely to power, that being ‘dependency’. Dependency happens between two parties for only a few reasons, either Party A has something that is essential to Party B such as money or career, or perhaps something non-substitutional and cannot be gained from another source, such as expertise, or money or career. Whichever way you wash it, dependency can create a false representation of power. If power corrupts are person when used in the wrong way, then dependency can corrupt the power that a person is meant to own.
If we take this one stage further and look at influence, then it is easy to see how we are all affected in some way or another. Robert Cialdini is famous for is amazing work on Influence. Especially around the areas of Social Proof and Reciprocation; when you read about these elements in more detail it is clear that they play a role in creating dependency and in turn nurturing different types of power. Managers need to understand these rules of influence in order to manage people to do the right thing at the right time in the right place to the right standard.
Of course it is fair to say that this is quite faffy and not really worth the trouble and for some people then this is absolutely right for others not so much. However before you embark on your journey of dependency and influence; think about what type of power is in play and as the quote at the top of this blog clearly states, before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us consider how happy those are who already possess it.