How I learned to be stronger
When I was in my 20’s, the final part of my Master of Science degree was to write a thesis (12 months of writing – bless me).
I chose “How to Gain Power” as the foundation. The concept has been ingrained in me ever since.
“Power is the ability to get someone to do something that he or she would not have done otherwise.”
It could be as simple asking “please hold my pen for a minute”. If someone does something because of our influence, directly or indirectly, and would not have done it otherwise, we have power over that person and have exercised it. Hurray!
The big question is always: “How do we get power?” Power is not something that we simply have or do not have. Power is rooted in dependency.
We have a key employee. This person does not comply with our instructions. We know if we push too hard they will leave and it will have a negative impact on our goals and set KPIs. Therefore, we are not in a strong position to negotiate. We do not like it and we feel uncomfortable.
What we lack is power. The power to put ourselves in a stronger position.
Let me give you a tool that puts you in a better bargaining position; making you a strong manager.
Let us assume we are the employer and John is our employee.
John is dependent, but he also has power.
We pay John a salary and John is dependent on the money he earns. Therefore, we have power over John and when we ask John to do something he will often comply. He knows if he does not, it may have consequences.
John is in sales and generates income for the company. If he leaves, it will cost the company to replace him. Therefore, when John asks for something we consider and may grant his request so as not to upset him and encourage him to leave.
The reality is, a manager and their employees are dependent on each other and that is why there is a relationship.
The stronger the dependency, the stronger the relationship.
We will accept more pain from each other before we break up. If we do not want John to leave, we can make him more dependent on his position and the company. There are many forms of dependencies, not just money (e.g. social, learning, prestige, flexible working hours, etc.).
Also, we can make ourselves less dependent on John. If we are not dependent on John and can replace him relatively quickly then we will not give him more room to move. Therefore, we would become less tolerant of John.
If John has the perception that we are less tolerant of him, then he would also know that if he loses his job he may face an uncertain future. Therefore, he may not push too hard as he has the most to lose.
Perceived dependency is what matters.
We may be very dependent on John but choose to act like we are not. That is the classic poker game. We may tell John that “If you don’t do what we ask you to do then it will have consequences. We may further tell him that it would not faze us.
While we may know full well that this is not the case, John’s perception is that we are less dependent on him than he is on us. Therefore, he sees us as being in a stronger position.
Changing dependencies & creating a power base
It is important to map out our dependencies. When these are known, action can be taken to minimise them over time. These could be decisions relating to staffing numbers, such as not having only one (or only a few), for example:
The list is long.
To be effective managers, we need to create a position of power. How else are we going to get someone to do something that he or she would not have done otherwise?
If we as managers do not change the behaviour of our people, then we are not managers.
Final note - “power” manifests itself into situations and relationships. No relationships means no situations with no power to be executed. In this instance, the concept of a weak or strong manager does not exist.