Power, in and of itself is neither positive nor negative, it is the intent behind it. Jackie is a manager who is ambitious, and focused on her movement up the corporate ladder. She aligns herself with executives and other coworkers who can help her attain her ambitions. She is prepared to throw her colleagues under the bus, or highlight their errors so she can appear to be the best, or from her perspective, the only option for a promotion within her department.
Every time an opportunity for a promotion is posted Jackie aligns herself with the hiring executive, doing and saying whatever she can to be selected. Between promotions, she plants seeds of doubt within the team so coworkers would turn against each other. Everything Jackie does is deliberate. She only cares about her own ambitions and supports persons who support her.
Jackie uses relationship power to build networks of relationships that support her agenda, she openly assists persons who have the power to positively impact her career, and she will selectively coerce her direct reports. Jackie also uses information power to threaten coworkers to comply with her wishes. To achieve this, she is an active member of the grape vine, using information to compromise persons, making them vulnerable and to build her profile.
Managers like Jackie who value personal ambition above all else tend to be constantly looking over their shoulders for other, equally ambitious persons who are openly or not so openly vying for attention and a promotion. When someone else gets too close to persons who have the power to promote Jackie, her anxiety level peaks and this drives her to do whatever it takes to neutralize the competition.
Within an organization, persons can build elaborate power structures by networking with coworkers who can help them achieve power goals. When personal agendas abound, power is a fragile construct, it can embolden some to defy the rules, or to impose their will on others, but deep beneath the surface, there are others who have a strong desire to wield power in a way that disregards the greater good of the team. Sometimes the competition remain faceless and nameless. This creates paranoia. In other circumstances, it is very clear who is impatiently waiting for an opportunity for a position of power, whether formal, or informal.
When power, money and status are primary motivators, culture tends to organize itself around them, preserving the power structure. Sometimes cultural norms are so deeply embedded, that when the person at the top moves on for one reason or another the integrity of the structure remains intact after they leave. This is because persons who have been waiting for the position to be vacated, sustain the norms.
When using power and influence to create an empowered team, the first step is to cultivate trust. Sometimes persons in positions of power have significantly damaged trust within their teams by their actions so they may not be the ones to lead the team in a different direction. This can happen if they are unwilling or unable to connect with the self-awareness and ownership they need to recognize how they are impacting the team, own up to it, and take the steps necessary for building and sustaining trust.
Transformation like this is not achieved by merely assigning persons to attend training. There needs to be deep consideration of the culture and the norms that are permitting unproductive dynamics to flourish. There needs to be coaching and mentoring of leaders so they can become self-aware. There also needs to be an action plan, designed to take the team or organization from one point in its existence, to another, envisioned reality. This plan should include success measures so members of the team will know when they are succeeding.
Stefan is an empowered manager. His technical skills are not the strongest but he is an effective leader. He took the time to build trust within his team, by demonstrating integrity, understanding each team member’s strengths and taking time to help them grow. Stefan shows each member of his team that they are valued. He is compassionate, and his motives are transparent. In his daily interaction, Stefan methodically takes steps that gain buy in for team goals.
Like Jackie, Stefan uses relationship power, but the intent behind Stefan’s use of it is different. He genuinely cares about each member of his team and his agenda appropriately balances his purpose with the shared goals of the team. He uses his relationship network to support these team goals.
When building an empowered team, purpose trumps ambition. Purpose refers to a person’s “why”, their reason for being. Ambition is the driving force behind the “why”. When the impetus behind ambition is not purpose, but money, power and status are there instead, it is difficult to build an empowered team. The key is to shift members of the team from only caring about themselves to a predisposition toward connection, respect, perceiving the bigger picture, and caring about others. Not to the exclusion of their own developmental goals, but along with them.
In empowered teams, managers care about how their decisions impact others so they think of the consequences of their actions carefully. They are passionate about their “why” and their “why” is aligned with the purpose of the team. Empowered team members don’t just show up to work, they Show Up. They are fully present, collaborative, and willing to make sacrifices for the team when necessary.
In the modern workplace, culture, engagement, and people are becoming increasingly important to the sustainability of the organization so it is not good enough to allow impaired relationships to work themselves out. One leader with a personal agenda can reduce engagement levels and impact performance, therefore it is time to proactive steps to create an empowered culture.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.