Power: Use It or Lose It

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You’ve got potential. Not only in the sense of accomplishment, but in terms of the power you hold. What’s that? You don’t believe you hold the reins to any significant power in your workplace? Even if you’re on the bottom rung of the ladder, you could not be more wrong.

Power comes in three basic forms: the power of authority, the power of expertise, and the power of social relationship. You’ve got access to some of each, to greater or lesser degree. If you do not reach for it, however, your potential is wasted, sitting idly at the curbside of your road to success, waiting for the next passerby to gather it up. Why not give it a ride and see what boomerangs back in return?

The power of authority automatically comes with a title and a position. It’s a standard business hierarchy that often distributes power from the top down. From the CEO, through the various department managers, down to the rank and file office personnel, power of authority usually dissipates with distance from the top of the organisational chart.

Authoritative power doesn’t always flow with gravity, however. Sometimes it flows sideways, or even upward. Specific projects may have you working with other departments or other companies, requiring management to supply you with input or work tasks, giving you temporary authoritative power over superiors.

Some very simple positions actually wield much more power than the title would reflect. Consider that even the lowest positions on the CEO’s administrative staff are allowed access to a great deal of information that even upper level managers don’t have. That knowledge gives even lowly ranked workers a special type of authority called informational power.

Authoritative power goes hand in hand with an increased role in most companies. Want more power here? Get a promotion. Want to get promoted? Examine your tasks, pick the ones most valuable to the company, and hone them to perfection. Doing additional work on things that have a direct impact on company performance will make you indispensable, elevating your authoritative power, and perhaps even earning you a promotion. With administrative power, if you don’t reach for it, you won’t find it and it won’t find you.

Expert power, gained through skill, knowledge, and experience, is awarded to those who are good at what they do. Often, this power comes through academic degrees. It is also awarded through performance.

People respect results. Consider the top salesman, the most prolific programmer, or the most successful manager at your company. How do they structure their day that keeps them at the top of their game? Stay dynamic. Bring new ideas and new ways of doing things to the table to keep a company competitive. Learn new skills. Add to your repertoire to broaden your perspective, enabling you to see the big picture. Increase your expert power through learning and doing.

Relationship power comes from interaction with people. Being helpful, nice, and easygoing forges relationships that create power with bidirectional strength. Being a pushover, however, does not.

A manager or employee that has good relationships with co-workers and management gets things done, earning respect of all involved. Yes, grumpy, demanding managers also get things done, but usually not as well, nor usually as fast.

Relationship power is something everyone can build, with favours done, favours received, and interactions that are rewarding to both. Simply doing good turns without accepting anything in exchange doesn’t work. The “all give and no take” approach can make others feel indebted to you too, creating an uncomfortable relationship that erodes the power of reciprocal support. Or, it can make others use you as a doormat, getting you to do some of their work, taking advantage of your good nature.

The power to influence behaviour in the workplace and get people to do things or change the course of events is a gift. Managers and co-workers award you respect, yielding to you if you use your power reasonably and perform your job well. Who can argue with the power given to someone with excellent performance, deep knowledge, and mad skills?

If you try to take what’s not yours, however, be prepared to pay a heavy price. If you’ve not earned the right to exert your will over others, or if you’re using the wrong kinds of power to get results, prepare for a big stumble. These errors in judgment have derailed many a promising career.

Regardless of your position, time would seem like the great equalizer. While we all have just 24 hours to work with, the amount of power you feel has a direct correlation to your sense of the passage of time. A study of upper level executives revealed that those with a sense of power feel more in control of time, feel less stressed about deadlines and are more confident about the amount of time available to get things done. Power, like fear, fever, and music, slows the perception of time down.

Age speeds it up, as does feeling powerless. Those without a sense of power often feel highly stressed over deadlines and tasks to be completed, feeling there is never enough time. Perhaps those with power simply get more done in less time. Perhaps not spending time worrying about things provides more time to be productive.

Whatever the case, however you use your time, combined with how you earn, exchange, and exert your power in the workplace, is up to you. Earning it and using it wisely can bring substantial reward. Using it despicably, and losing it, can cost plenty. It’s in your hands. Use it, or lose it.

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