The other day, one of my students posted a question related to the challenges he faces when interacting with his upper management. Steve, as I am going to call him, is a developer.
To me, it was clear all along that Steve is a good guy who wants to see things get better for all of his teammates. And my intention was to support his efforts by making him feel more powerful.
That didn’t go that well. As it turned out, Steve seemed to reject the idea of having more power. It became clear to me that he didn’t think he had any to start with.
So, what happened? – My conversation with Steve
Me: To answer your question I am going to focus on the part where you say you find it a challenge to convince upper management they need to support these activities on the clock, the reason being that this course is exactly about empowering YOU, so you yourself become an outstanding leader!
What you are saying is that you would like to become more influential, more powerful. If you have watched the lecture about power, being powerful is exactly about being able to impact and influence our work environment. And learning about power is the first step towards becoming powerful.
And learning about the horsemen and their antidotes, is a way to work on our emotional and social intelligences, which if you have watched the lecture about power, in turn adds to our personal power.
So, my suggestion to you is that you shift the focus from what management is doing to what you yourself can do. Saying upper management ‘doesn’t get it’ sounds a bit like finger-pointing to me, it is saying ‘it’s them, not me’. A horseman behavior, remember? 😉
Here are things you can consider:
- Regardless of your positional power within your organization, who can you build alliances with that could support you in achieving what you want?
- Can you mention upper management’s specific behavior and formulate a request?
- Don’t make things personal, focus on what the working relationship with your upper management needs, instead of focusing on who is doing what to whom
- Look at the part of the situation you can become responsible for changing even if it is only a piece of the whole pie. Focus on HOW you want to be regardless of what others do
- When it comes to the horsemen of toxic communication, Practice, practice, practice!!! :), you could become very influential and be the one to turn things around!
I’d like to add one last thing. I agree with you that things are easier when upper management is on board. As a consultant I am always elated when it is upper management that brings me in.
Steve: To be honest, I am not seeking to elevate my own power. I am right where I want to be career-wise, and do not wish to step into a role higher up the ladder. I’m really not looking out for my own interest or desires here, I am looking at factors that demotivate an entire team and thus make it harder for the entire team to be successful. So in that sense, it’s hard to limit the focus to just myself. A demotivated team affects everyone in the company.
At times I wonder why more employees don’t stick their neck out and provide straight feedback as to what is wrong? My teammates privately discuss how demotivating this is, but they don’t want to speak up. Maybe sometimes I speak up a bit too often — I find myself playing the sacrificial lamb that speaks for the team more that I would like 🙂
As far as whether my suggestions are heard — I’d have to say sometimes they are and sometimes not. But it seems like a recurring issue in multiple companies I’ve worked in. I just wondered if there was a more effective way of trying to overcome this.
Me: Good to hear you are working on this material with an open mind. It is all quite new, so give it some time to sink in.
It was clear to me from the start that you want things to improve at the office for the sake of your organization. And it sounds to me that you want to be influential, that you would like to be able to influence the colleagues who are not speaking up and impact your upper management. That’s why I said it is my job to make you more powerful, regardless of your position.
Let’s review a couple of things so that this becomes clear:
1. Power is our capacity to impact and influence our environment
2. Some of our power is external (provided by the position we hold within an organization), some is grown and developed into our personal power.
3. Our personal power goes with us everywhere we go, it does not depend on context. By increasing our personal power, we become more powerful. Said differently, we become more capable of influencing our environment. Developing our emotional intelligence (for instance doing horsemen work and learning about power) is one of the ways to add to that personal power.
You will be becoming more powerful yourself regardless of whether you want to go higher up the ladder or not. By doing the work in this course, you will be able to impact and influence your workplace in new ways. Another benefit from this material is that you can stop focusing so much on what others do, and focus instead on how you want to be and what you can change yourself. Not depending so much on upper management to shape the workplace you want, isn’t that powerful?
Where Steve’s misconceptions about power are coming from and how to do things differently
Steve’s bias against power comes from three widespread obsessions:
1. An obsession with a traditional definition of Power as ‘power over’.
I work instead with a new paradigm of power that sees it as a continuum of 5 different sources of power playing out differently depending on the situation we are in. Positional power within an organization and personal power are two of these sources.
2. An obsession with positional power even though it is not the only power.
High positional power doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with personal power, and someone with lower positional power can be equipped with a high dose of healthy personal power, capable of having a positive impact in an organization.
3. An obsession with leadership being a rank or a position.
It isn’t. Leadership is a choice and a service to be given. And our dear Steve is a born leader! He just has to sort out his issues around personal power so he feels comfortable (and powerful) influencing his upper management.
Final Thoughts – 360° Influencing
Look at your biases against power. If you think ill of it or even hate it, the worse your use of it will be. Make a distinction between positional and personal power, so that even if you do not wish to climb up the corporate ladder, you can make a positive impact on your workplace. Team health is contagious and spreading this new disease across your organization very well makes you deserve being acknowledged as a leader. You can be of service spreading your superpowers up, down, across, and outside your organization.
And before I go, I would like to plant a seed…of empathy…
Not owning your personal power is the place where a frustrated employee and a boss can be alike. Have you seen bosses who don’t take decisions, allow others to derail the agenda, refuse to make the tough call or hold people accountable, and avoid solving team conflicts? These are bosses who sidestep their authority. They are high on authority but low on personal power, effectively having a negative impact on team morale.
If you are used to obsessing about positional power, how is it to see that a boss doesn’t necessarily *feel* powerful? Does this change in any way how you look at today’s workplace? Do you now perhaps feel more powerful yourself?
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Sonsoles Alonso – I help CxOs and Founders Build Highly Efficient Happy Teams in 6 Months or Less with the Right Hires, using Systemic Tools and Serious Games.
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