How I learned to be stronger
When I was in my twenties, the final part of my Master of Science degree was to write a thesis. I chose “How to Gain Power” as the foundation of my research, and the concept has been ingrained in me ever since.
Power can be defined as having 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”.
As that person would not have held your pen if hadn't asked them to, you have influenced their behaviour and thus exercised power over that person.
The big question is always “how do we get power over someone else?”
Power is not something that we simply have or do not have. Power is rooted in dependency.
Case study - the relationship between employer & employee
Now, let's examine the relationship between an employer and their employee to see what power dynamics are at play.
An employer pays their employee a salary, and the employee is dependent on the money they earn. Due to this dependency, the employer has power. So, when the manager asks the employee to do something, they comply. The employee knows that if they do not, there may be negative consequences.
However, if the employee resigns, it will cost the employer a significant amount of money to replace them. So the manager tries to avoid upsetting them. If the employee asks for something, the manager will consider it and may satisfy their request if it is within reason.
The reality is, the employer and employee are dependent on each other, and this codependency is why a relationship exists.
The stronger the dependency, the stronger the relationship.
Because there is codependency, the employer and employee will accept requests from each other, at least to a certain degree. The greater this dependency, the more each party will be willing to accept before they end the relationship. There are many forms of dependencies - financial benefits, access to information, legal, authority and more.
The employer can also make themselves less dependent on the employee over time. If they are not dependent and can replace the employee quickly, then the employer will be less willing to satisfy the employee's requests.
The employee can also make him/herself less dependent on their employer by upskilling and having their options open to alternative forms of income.
After all, perceived dependency is what matters.
The employer may be dependent on their employee, but choose to act like they are not. That is the classic poker game.
The employer may tell their employee “If you don’t do what we ask, there will be consequences." While the employer may know full well that this is not the case, the employee's perception is that they are more dependent on their employer than their employer is on them. Therefore, the employee see their employer as being in a stronger position and will be more likely to comply with their requests.
It is important to map out our dependencies, as this is the first step to minimising them. When our dependencies are known, we can take action to reduce them over time.
To be an effective manager, 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?
Ultimately, if a manager is unable to change the behaviour of their staff, then they are not truly a manager.
As an article for Leadership and Management in Engineering states, "Power is a universal constant - it is needed even to run the most trivial functions of an organisation or project. Thus, power is a prerequisite for success".
One 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.
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