How Do I Get Power/Influence?

May 19, 2016


How Do I Get Power/ Influence?

Let’s say you’ve recognized that you need to have influence or power in your job, either to move ahead or avoid falling behind.

First and as a given, you need to do your present job exceptionally well even if it’s a joe job and you know you’d be more successful at a higher level. Bosses don’t promote people who are doing a crummy job, no matter the reason.

However, that’s not enough. To position yourself for promotion, you need to be influential with your boss and within your company.[1] Even if your boss doesn’t have the power to promote you, he can usually assign you to projects which increase your skills or assign you to cross-functional teams. The first makes you more promotable and the second gives you profile.

How do you create influence?
How many of the following are effective in creating influence?

a) Working even harder
b) Doing whatever needs to be done
c) Flattering the boss
d) Suggesting new ideas even if you give the credit to others
e) Suggesting new ideas even if they aren’t your own
f) Highlighting the many fires you’ve put out

Did you pick more than one? Nope, I’d say the only one which works over the longer term is (d).

d)     Suggesting new ideas even if you give the credit to others
I know—seems counter-intuitive. If you want to build influence with the boss, why tout other people’s horns? Naturally, you need some bright ideas yourself—otherwise you’re just a post office, but mixing them with other ideas for which you give credit where credit is due will not only make your colleagues happy but position you as the go-to guy when the boss needs a new idea.

Everyone will recognize that you know a good idea when you see it (i.e. good judgment) and in addition, you’ll be seen as having pull with the boss. Then you have influence with both your boss and colleagues.

The other options are dead ends in the longer term no matter how tempting in the shorter. You’re in this for the long haul—not just the next promotion but the ladder all the way to the top.

In summary, you can get some short term gain by fighting fires or stealing others’ ideas but if you really want influence with your boss, think about spreading credit around for good ideas.

a)     Working even harder
If you are already a hard worker, more of the same won’t create a tipping point where your boss thinks, “My god, he’s so promotable.” Excessive amounts of work don’t necessarily morph into the completely different quality of promotability.

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b) Doing whatever needs to be done
No matter that lazy SOB Dan should be doing it or it’s a dirty job, you volunteer so the team can succeed.

All very commendable. Bosses may praise you as great team player but also can see you as a dog’s body who will just keep plugging away. They value you but don’t necessarily see CEO material.

It’s important to be a good team player—part of doing a good job—but not to the point of effacing yourself.  Naturally, if the boss says, ‘do it,’ you do it. Otherwise, don’t always be the first to take on the crummy stuff for the sake of the team. Crummy stuff can be shared. That’s being a good team, too.

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c)      Flattering the boss
I’m sure you’ve know the ones who suck up to the boss. Unfortunately, some bosses actually seem to like this and if you find the sucky ones are getting the plum assignments, you need to decide whether to play that game or find a way around it (e.g. a mentor or a manager you respect).

But keep in mind that by and large the managers farther up the food chain seem to develop an exceptionally sensitive B.S. meter. They discount people who fawn, if only because they are savvy enough to know that the sucker-up-ers are not usually the get-it-done-ers. If you use this technique to get ahead, it will eventually actually do your career damage (as well as leaving a trail of colleagues who have no time for you).

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e)     Suggesting new ideas even if they aren’t your own
Despite the fact that this is not only wrong but in the longer term, ineffective, it’s distressing how many people see this is the way to the top.

I understand why. Truthfully, it works up to a point. If you have a boss who is not very sensitive about these things, he’ll just take the ideas and think you’re a great guy. You get influence for the time being, even though your colleagues throw daggers at your back.

However, that eventually backfires. Once your colleagues realize you’re milking them, they’ll will clam up (I think I mixed metaphors—ah, well). Not only will you be unpopular—which alone creates sabotage opportunities—but the wellspring of ideas will dry up. You can’t be the ideas go-to guy if you don’t have any.

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f)       Highlighting the many fires you’ve put out
Another popular way to draw attention. Some people think they can become influential if the boss knows they’re great in a crisis. And actually, if your boss can toss you a mess and you’ll sort it out, on time and on budget, that’s gold.

However, in the longer term and as you look to bigger and bigger promotions, the expectation eventually becomes not putting out fires but preventing them in the first place. So while your ability to put out fires is valued now, start thinking how these crises can be mitigated either in frequency or intensity.

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[1] As I have mentioned previously, I am assuming that you see your next promotion is going to come from within. If you are looking outside the company, that’s fine but then the issue is more about skills and abilities and good interview skills. In the latter case, a good book on interview techniques is more what you need. In this post I am looking at how to position yourself within your company to be promoted, in some way a more difficult thing than convincing strangers that you are just what they need.

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