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“I’ve got the Power!”

For those of you who grew up listening to techno dance music in the early ‘90’s, you might remember this ‘iconic’ line from the song, “Power” by Snap! It is ok to admit that you don’t know the song (yeah right) because this post isn’t about nineties dance music. For this post, I am referring to when managers (who are new(er)) to their roles and/or are experiencing a lack of success in leading their people) misidentify what power and authority really mean. Case in point, I was speaking to an individual (let’s call him Ian) who was recently promoted to a supervisory role. Prior to his promotion, Ian was considered to be quite strong technically and had been climbing the corporate ranks so to speak. He seemed to have a good working relationship with his peers and had an expressed a desire to manage and lead others, as such, he earned this promotion.

Several months after starting his new position, I had a follow up conversation with Ian to ask him how he was doing. He expressed that he was having some challenges with the new role and wasn’t able to do what was necessary as a manager in order to be successful because the role wasn’t set up properly for him to succeed. I was a bit puzzled by his response as he had received a great deal of onboarding, training and support from his direct manager as he integrated into the role. I asked for clarification as to what he thought was the issue impacting his success. His response alarmed me a bit when he informed me that he felt his position didn’t have the necessary “power and authority” to get anything done. I asked Ian to define/clarify what he meant by power and authority. His response alarmed me.

imageIan defined power and authority in a very literal sense. To him, as a manager, you automatically get power and authority due to your position in the organizational structure. (Keep in mind, this role is in a matrix driven organization so it further added to the predicament). Ian struggled with not having total control over his direct reports. He wanted to accomplish things in his department through a telling and commanding style of management. Essentially, Ian’s approach was to direct his employees and realize his (and the department’s) successes in spite of them. To him, power and authority meant that in order to achieve the organization’s mandate, he needed to be able to move people around, change and shift priorities as he saw fit and control the activities of his direct reports.

What Ian failed to see was that true power and authority don’t just come with a title change or your position within the organization. While Ian had realized some success his in his role, it was in spite of his approach to managing people, not because of it. True “power and authority” come from a manager’s ability to positively influence the performance and actions of their employees. “Authority” comes from fostering a coaching environment based on collaboration and trust. Because employees have that trust with you, they will come to you as their manager for support, ideas and solutions. This is real ‘authority’ that has been earned and established by leading people – not directing them. The ultimate payoff with this approach is individual, departmental and organizational performance being realized.

True power and authority are gained by working with and through your employees not in spite of or because of them. This is also the clear line of demarcation between management and leadership. Essentially managers direct work activities to ensure outputs are realized. Their employees may not be engaged or as productive as they could be, but they accomplish the necessary “outputs.” Leaders earn their “power” by building up trust with their staff by fostering the lines of communication and removing roadblocks to their employees’ success. “Power” comes from enabling your staff in their roles to help them fulfill their potential. Their successes become your successes. Power and authority should not be seen as being overly overt (command & control) if you are truly focused on being a successful leader. In fact, by coaching, collaborating and working through others, your power and authority will be quite innate to all those around you.

What about you? How do you define power and authority in managerial and leadership roles? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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