What The Best Leaders Know About Power

Do you remember the first time people looked to you to make a big decision or asked for approval before moving forward? That was power, and chances are, you liked it, wanted more of it, and even started looking for additional opportunities to exercise it.  

There is nothing inherently wrong with power. Some say it’s a fundamental tool used by great leaders. However, nothing will cause a leader’s demise more than falling in love with power. It can be a dangerous distraction from the most critical job of a leader today, elevating others.

Take Chris, a Division VP at an established manufacturing company, for example. When he was first promoted to Vice President, he didn’t care who had the power or how much he possessed. Instead, he was so excited about the opportunity to impact the lives of 100 people positively. 

For the first five years in the job, his team’s performance improved so much that Chris was labeled “the next big thing” in the company. When discussions began on the management team about a new President, Chris’ wheels began to turn. Not only did he want the job, he thought the other VP’s were borderline incompetent. 

Chris did what most people in this position do. He started jockeying for power and authority. He communicated his vision for the company and why he was the best person for the job to anyone who would listen. He even went as far as to throw others under the bus to make himself look better.  

Not only did it take a toll on his credibility with employees, but his own team’s performance began to suffer. When Chris finally noticed the slip, he didn’t look in the mirror at himself; he exercised his authority and demanded better and faster work.  

The result was a team that turned against him and a promotion that slipped through his fingers. Eventually, Chris was politely asked to leave the company by the newly promoted president. 

There is nothing wrong with the desire or ambition to get a promotion, whether it’s a frontline manager or president, but pursuing a title just for power is a recipe for disaster. 

If you want to ensure what happened to Chris doesn’t happen to you, let’s get clear on what you can do to avoid being blinded by power. 

Understand What Power Is and Isn’t

There are many definitions or perspectives about power, but the definition I am using today is the possession of control, authority, or influence over others. It is leveraged by leaders to persuade people to action or to do as they ask. Many managers, supervisors, and executives have control or authority because of their position. However, influence can be gained by anyone because it’s primarily earned.  

Influence over others has its greatest impact when it’s earned, not given.  

In countless examples from our research, the best leaders earn their influence over others by focusing on an inner strength that doesn’t depend on outward things. This inner strength is then used to inspire others to make their own decisions in the team’s best interest. While they will occasionally exercise their control or authority because of their position, it’s not a trump card they prefer to pull. 

Power Can Corrupt

Abraham Lincon said it best, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” In organizational leadership, certain hierarchical positions come with control over resources. This can cause leaders to act on their selfish human nature versus what’s in their organization or team’s best interest. If one doesn’t have humility and high character, power will overtake them.  

It’s common in my coaching conversations to hear about leaders feeling threatened by a high performer or sense they are threatening another leader above them because of their performance. Research suggests that the desire for a leader to maintain their position atop the hierarchy can be so strong that many are willing to engage in questionable and unethical behaviors to protect it. 

Typical behavior includes; lying, taking credit where it doesn’t belong, sabotaging someone else, or withholding information or resources to make work harder. As evil as these sound, they happen every day in politics, companies, and even families, and no one is immune to the temptation of making them.

Power (Like Money) Does Matter

Don’t think for a second this is a bash session about power. Just like money, power absolutely matters. Take money, for example. Money by itself isn’t evil; it makes possible the best what earth affords, and it’s a vehicle to opportunity.  

Power is similar; your ability to get things accomplished, create a better future than exists today, and impact others relies heavily on having power. To act as if it’s not essential or that only bad leaders care about it would be stinking thinking.  

What you do with power matters, and it makes or breaks you as a leader.

Here are the power questions I want you to ask yourself:

  • Why are my true intentions for wanting more power?
  • Who could benefit from the power I gain outside of myself?
  • Who has the power in my organization today?
  • Whom do I need to get to know better to acquire it?
  • How would you use power if you had it?

Closing

The best part of leadership is that it’s a journey and not a destination. You will be happy to know Chris learned this lesson about power the hard way. Through a lot of hard work, he makes sure he doesn’t fall in love with power and keeps his attention on elevating others, now that he is the CEO.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How the Best Leaders Navigate Office Politics

Business competition

For everyone in the United States, November 3rd was Election Day. It’s was day when we got the opportunity to exercise our right to vote for our country’s leaders. Many care deeply about this particular election (myself included). 

While talking about politics can get most people’s blood boiling, there’s another type of politics that deserve your attention — organizational politics or “office politics.”

Before you shrug off the idea or claim you don’t get involved in “office politics,” let’s define what the term means. Politics are the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups or other forms of power relations between individuals.  

There isn’t an organization in the world that doesn’t make decisions in groups or navigates power balance.  What I have learned in working with leaders in different sizes and types of organizations is that the best leaders not only recognize the politics in their organization, they are active participants in it. 

Great leaders are active participants in organizational politics.

Great leaders do this because they recognize that if they want to make positive change, have influence, and be a part of the solution, they must be active participants and not passive bystanders.

Don’t Ignore It; Learn it.

One of the most popular things I hear from people, “I ignore the politics in my organization; it’s not worth my time.”  I can absolutely understand this comment if their organization has more people jockeying for position than working to advance the company forward. However, this isn’t typical and even in organizations like this, ignoring politics isn’t the answer; learning it is.  After studying leaders who navigate office politics well, here are some best practices you can implement to ensure you aren’t ignoring your organizational politics.

1. Rely on Relationships

One of the biggest mistakes any politician makes is thinking they can do it all by themselves.  Many professionals make the same mistake.  Instead of relying on strong relationships, they “go rogue” and are blindsided when their initiatives are struck down or thrown out. Mark Sheilds said it well, “There is always strength in numbers. The more individuals and organizations that you can rally around your cause, the better.”

Start early and never stop building strong relationships you can rely on.  As I wrote in Building the Best“Without strong relationships, you can’t lead.”  Build strong trust-filled relationships at every organizational level by being reliable, consistent, and helping others get what they want.  

If you are curious about the strength of a relationship in your organization, ask yourself this question, “Have I given my time or demonstrated my intentions through actions to this person?”  If the answer isn’t a resounding “yes!” it’s time to make a change with them. 

2. Build a Resume of Accomplishments for Influence

John Maxwell declared, “Leadership is influence.”  That’s not all leadership is, but I know you can’t lead without it.  Influence, by definition, is the power to have an important effect on someone or something.  The best way to gain influence is to build a resume based on actions and accomplishments.  

Too often, people assume that influence comes from how long you have been somewhere. While this might have been true in previous generations, it’s becoming less and less important today.  

Great modern leaders care more about your actions than your age.

The fastest path to influence is accomplishing meaningful things with others. When you play an integral part on a team that takes action, solves problems, and gets results, your influence skyrockets.  

3. Understand the Decision Making Process

Decision making is choosing between two or more courses of action. Some decisions are based on reason and others on intuition. Each organization has a decision-making process woven into the fabric of their culture. I have come to define them in two ways:

Centralized Authority:  These organizations make decisions in a slow, pragmatic, and hierarchical way. Centralized Authority decision making is common in highly regulated industries with significant financial or safety-related ramifications in most decisions.  

Dispersed Authority: These organizations make decisions in a quick, decisive, and shared way.  It’s common for team members to be empowered to “make decisions where the information is.”  This is common in entrepreneurial cultures or in technology companies where innovation rules the day. 

There are always exceptions to every rule, but in most situations, the better model is dispersed authority.  You might not be able to change the decision-making process in your organization, but you should be able to answer these questions:  

Who are the key people?  

What are those people’s priorities? 

What do they value most?  

Once you can answer these questions, you can align your initiatives and influence to get things accomplished.

4. Be Patient

I learned early in my career, “patience is a virtue.”  This week Gary Vaynerchuk said, “patience is the core ingredient of success for most people.”  Most people don’t have patience, and instead expect to build relationships, have influence, and make decisions in days, not years.  

The leaders who navigate office politics the best are the ones who are patient and do the right thing day in and day out.  So do your best to stay patient while being an active participant in your office politics.  

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.