Power Matters to You

May 16, 2016


Power Matters to You

In the last post, you were vying to develop a new company service. Despite your and Sarah’s best efforts, but power hungry Mike positioned himself as the only one to do it.

Why should you care?

So, why does this matter? You may be thinking that you’re not power-hungry so this undercurrent can’t or shouldn’t affect you. (My definition of power is later if you’re interested.) After all, you’ve got a job. Who cares who gets the power?

You do or should.

The scenario in the last post showed why. Not only will Mike increase his profile but possibly at your expense if the money Mike needs is diverted from your budget. If so, you can’t meet your commitments but can kiss your year-end bonus good-bye. You not only don’t advance your career by creating the new service, you may actually lose ground.

So news—even if you just want to do your job, power can and does affect that modest goal. Without it, you can’t prevent yourself from being at the whim of those who with it. What you do, how you do it, when you do it, who you work with, who you work for, and whether you are recognized for your work will be determined by others. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, former editor of Harvard Business Review, points out people can be after power not necessarily for personal gain but because they are incapacitated without it.[1]

But acquiring power is not always or even frequently a defensive move. People can seek power to get things done—to create worthwhile products and services or to address long-standing and often egregious wrongs.  Much as we can point to people who have misused their power, we also know those who have used it wisely, moderately and responsibly. Power isn’t always or even usually destructive.

So even if you don’t think you’re after power, you need to pay attention to this undercurrent. Without influence or power, you can’t get things done and may be banged about by those who do.

What is power? or power defined (sort of)

What is power? Well, there are a lot of definitions in academia which slice and dice it every which way.[2] While this parsing of power has its place, I think we can get away with a simpler view.

To me, power is the ability of one person to get another to do something s/he might not have done of his/her own accord. So, if I was going to eat that butter tart anyway, you ordering me to do it, isn’t power. On the other hand, if I am full and uninclined to do so, if you can make me because you can fire me or manipulate/influence me by reminding me how good it will taste—if I eat the butter tart under those circumstances, then you have power.

I know that the purists among you (and/or the academics) will be baulking at casting ‘power’—usually more formal—and ‘influence’—usually more informal—under the same roof. But I think we’re talking source rather than outcome. The source of making me do something might be power or influence, but the outcome is the same—I eat the butter tart.

So, I think I will stick with the idea that power can be formal (position power) or informal (influence).

[1] Kanter, R.M., Structures and processes: power in R.M. Kanter, Men and Women of the Corporation, pp. 164-205 New York Basic Books, Inc. 1977

[2] If you want a more thorough rundown, look at Brennan, Aoife, Patricia Ferris, Stephanie Paquet, and Theresa Kline The use and abuse of power in leadership, University of Calgary, no date (after 2002)

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