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Positional versus Personal Power

Influence is a combination of two kinds of power.

Influence is a combination of two kinds of power. Your role as a manager automatically gives you positional power in your organization—power that comes from your job description and title, like the ability to hire and fire people or approve a budget. In earlier generations, corporate cultures put a greater emphasis on a manager’s positional power, and there was an expectation that if you told direct reports to do something, they’d do it without question. But as hierarchies are giving way to flatter organizations and looser networks of collaboration, you can’t rely on just your job title to get things done. As a manager, you need to work through other people—your direct reports, who can execute your vision; your peers, who can support it laterally; and your management team, who can make or break it from above. Getting their buy-in requires a different approach.
To exercise influence up and down the chain of command, you need to also draw effectively on your personal power by cultivating social capital. Relationships, reputation, reciprocity, institutional knowledge, and informal know-how—social capital represents all of the trust, value, and goodwill you’ve created in your organization. For example, when you increase the organization’s profi ts or help your team secure good yearend bonuses, you create economic value for your higher-ups and direct reports alike. Down the line, when you want their buy-in for a new initiative, they’ll be more likely to accept your plan and throw their weight behind your leadership. Your past success has both generated goodwill and earned respect.
If you maintain a strong network of connections in the organization and you support initiatives that are important to others, you will be seen as a valuable ally. You can gain social capital over time by cultivating a few key habits, according to leadership coach Lisa Lai:
Take action and solve problems.
Find and solve real problems for the organization, and for your direct reports, peers, and supervisors. Identify opportunities to become better, smarter, and faster. Suggest specifi c changes that could be positive for employees, customers, or partners.
Signs that you need to work on this behavior include:

  • You tend to ignore problems until they either go away or become the norm.
  • You think more about coping mechanisms than solutions. • You struggle with turning complaints into to-do lists.

Be a team player.
Embrace change and try to deliver the best possible results, even if the decision isn’t one you’d choose. Work hard when no one’s watching.
Signs that you need to work on this behavior include:

  • When someone suggests a new way of doing things, your predominant reaction is fear or annoyance.
  • You don’t feel ownership of an outcome when you’ve objected to the process that produced it.

Have informed opinions.
Develop a deep, comprehensive understanding of your business and of your company’s power structure. Listen as much as you talk. Provide constructive input when you have an opinion.
Warning signs that you’re struggling with this behavior include:

  • You don’t contribute in the moment because you’re not sure what you think.
  • You beat yourself up afterward for being quiet, or you blame others for talking over you.
  • You change your mind frequently.

Help other people succeed.
Support your boss and acknowledge their authority. Support and respect your peers, even when you disagree. Offer opportunities to other people. Avoid bad-mouthing the company, leadership, and customers.
Warning signs that you’re struggling with this behavior include:

  • You withhold information and opportunities from others in the organization.
  • You prioritize making yourself look good over promoting the successes of your colleagues.
  • You’re indifferent to other people’s career trajectories because you don’t think they affect you very much.

Respect others.
Treat your coworkers with respect. Be direct and honest, and take direction easily. Learn to work well with others, including people you don’t really like. Manage conflict productively, without undue negativity.
Warning signs that you’re struggling with this behavior include:

  • You have a history of enemies and rivals in the office.
  • You tend to hold grudges.
  • You disrespect or disregard people’s professional abilities if you don’t like them.

Demonstrate integrity.
Share what you can with others without breaking confidences. Avoid barking or biting unless you have to, and use positional power only when it matters. Don’t let others bully you, and stand up for what you believe is right.
Warning signs that you have work to do in this area include:

  • You share other people’s personal information even when you know you shouldn’t.
  • You lose your temper and make threats to people under your authority.
  • You let other people talk you into doing things you don’t want to do. These strategies help you strengthen your relationships and build your social capital, all to the benefit of your ability to influence others.

This is an excerpt from Harvard Business Review’s Manager’s Handbook – the 17 Skills Leaders Need to Stand Out. Get your copy here.
Credit: Abhishek Singh

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