Power is an interesting concept when leading and working within organizations. Power is not always just as it appears on the organizational chart! Just because someone’s box is higher up on the chart does not always mean that they have the most power.
For example, take the following case study:
One person is a senior vice president, two levels down from the CEO. One person is the administrative assistant to the CEO.
Who has the most power?
In theory the SVP has a lot more power than the administrative assistant. This is “what should be”. In actuality, what can the senior VP do to damage the administrative assistant’s position? Not too much. What can the administrative assistant do to hurt the SVP? Plenty! Who really has the power – the SVP or the administrative assistant?
Sometimes when you look at the concept of power, getting out of the simplistic view of determining whose box is higher on the organizational chart and looking at power in terms of how it is outlined in Situational Leadership® as The Seven Bases of Power can be incredibly helpful when attempting to leverage power. In a nutshell, the seven bases of power are:
- Coercive – based on fear
- Connection – based on the leader’s connections to powerful individuals
- Expert – based on knowledge and skill of the leader
- Information – based on the leader’s access to valuable information
- Legitimate – based on the position held by the leader
- Referent – based on the likableness of the leader
- Reward – based on the leader’s ability to hand out rewards, both, monetary and non-monetary
(For more about the seven bases of power and how to leverage them, go to the Center for Leadership Studies website, situational.com.)
So, when you are in a lower “box” on the organizational chart, what are some things that you can do to influence those higher up?
Here are 10 things that you can do to convince upper management to convert your good ideas into meaningful action:
When presenting ideas, realize that it is your responsibility to sell – not their responsibility to buy. Influencing up is similar to selling products or services to customers.
Focus on contribution to the larger good – not just the achievement of your objectives. Don’t assume that executives can automatically ‘make the connection’ between the benefit to your unit and the benefit to the larger corporation.
Strive to win the big battles and don’t waste your energy and ‘psychological capital’ on trivial points. You are paid to do what makes a difference and to win on important issues.
Present a realistic cost-benefit analysis of your ideas–don’t just sell benefits. Be prepared to have a realistic discussion of the costs of your idea. Acknowledge that something else may have to be sacrificed to implement your idea.
Challenge up on issues involving ethics or integrity–never remain silent on ethics violations. When challenging up, try not to assume that management has intentionally requested you to do something wrong. Try to present your case in a manner that is intended to be helpful, not judgmental.
Realize that your managers are just as human as you are–don’t say, ‘I am amazed that someone at this level…!’ When your managers make mistakes, focus more on helping them than judging them.
Treat managers with the same courtesy that you would treat partners or customers. It’s vital to ‘challenge up’ on integrity issues. It is often inappropriate to ‘trash down’ when making personal attacks.
Support the final decision of the team. Assuming that the final decision of the team is not immoral, illegal, or unethical–go out and try to make it work! Managers who consistently say, ‘they told me to tell you’ to co-workers are seen as ‘messengers’ not leaders.
Make a positive difference–don’t just try to ‘win’ or ‘be right’. Focus on making a difference. The more other people can ‘be right’ or ‘win’ with your idea, the more likely your idea is to be successfully executed.
Focus on the future–let go of the past. People love getting ideas aimed at helping them achieve their goals for the future. They dislike being ‘proven wrong’ because of mistakes in the past. By focusing on the future, you can concentrate on what can be achieved tomorrow, as opposed to what was not achieved yesterday. This future orientation will dramatically increase your odds of effectively influencing up and build better long-term relationships.