Read an interesting article in Bloomberg Businessweek examining power. Power in organizations – how it flows, why some people have more despite equal budget and structural scope as others, how you obtain it and keep it – is truly the secret sauce. Those who decode it and use it well are successful, if they cut it as leaders.
Power is a primitive, primordial process, and that may be why it is so hard to study and analyze so that it can be taught. A lot of organizational habitués think of power as the result of hierarchical positions, but a bigger office and a big title are just the entry ticket.
To me, power is the way leadership comes alive in a company.
Leading means imposing your will on others, using your power wisely so that you don’t “overspend it”. The generation referred to in the very timely article is often uncomfortable with the need to signal “follow me”. But if you don’t, nobody will.
We tend to confuse coaching and mentoring, encouraging and developing with the exercise of power. Those are other things being expected of someone with more responsibility than others around her – or him – and of course key ways through which leaders connect with their teams and create their own credibility and standing.
Exercising power to accelerate the imposition of your will – leading in a calm, assertive but undisputed manner – that is applying that secret sauce to best effect. No ifs and buts when the chips are down: your power, your neck.
So how could you teach power, if you’d accept my primordial notions?
There’s a range of options, all good. The first step would be to observe how leaders lead. And then define categories, from the subtle use of power (often the domain of a functional head) to a damn-the-torpedoes approach.
What do some CCO’s do? Many of us tend to appraise the situation, make up our mind, probe other leaders through open questions, advise the boss in real time with finesse and empathy, using the position as a trusted adviser to exert influence – and thus exercise power. Often this involves letting others own the key ideas – so that it becomes their “will” that gets done.
Or you can do what true A types do. Make up your mind, size up your team, prime key allies, and plunge ahead.
All of this – and many more power varieties – could be decoded and taught. But how much can you learn power? In the end, exercising power is a lonely thing. And if budding, potential leaders have no nerve for it – they can’t be taught. There is no power karaoke, power is a live act, with you tuning your own guitar and relying on your own voice.
Perhaps a solution here is to simply treat power – for the purpose of teaching power – as one more central facet of leadership. It sits alongside coaching, mentoring, team building and development facets.
And power has to be discussed openly in safe learning environments. Not by the budding leader and her team.
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