Education

Three guaranteed ways to give away your power

Why is it that some people can get things done while others, even in the same job, can't? The answer, says executive leadership coach John M. McKee, has a lot to do with three simple rules of management.

Ever notice that some people have more power than others with the same title?

Here's what I mean: you go to one particular department leader for help and he/she can always get things done. But then there's the other leader who always has reasons why what you want simply can't happen.

I've studied this issue for a lot of years. Regardless of how personal it may seem to you, it transcends industries, genders, job titles, and department responsibilities. The issue becomes really clear when someone moves from one job into another:

  • The person who had been effective seems to carry that with her/him. After a learning period, they'll be just as effective in the new role.
  • Another person goes into the recently vacated role in an area that's been running like a Swiss watch but soon finds that "things have changed" and (s)he can't achieve the same results as the predecessor.

Clearly, the performance of two people in the same role can be very different. What's behind this? Is it that bane of corporate life, "politics and favoritism"? Or are we witnessing what the nineteenth-century writers described as the "great man theory"--that said that some of us are just better at everything?

Let’s consider a few everyday examples:

1. The Sandwich Manager. Wedged between a high-level executive who is very hands-on and aggressive subordinates who want to move ahead quickly, the manager is sandwiched between two tough-to-handle levels.

This is what you hear from these people: “My boss goes directly to my subordinate and tells him to do something that may be contrary to what I want.” Or: “My subordinate bypasses me and goes directly to my boss to get what she wants if she thinks I won’t give it to her. Who can manage this stuff?”

2. The "I'm all about honesty" department head. This manager spends a lot of time telling you about the problems ahead. He often feels he's the only one who cares enough to help others understand the “real” situation. Most often, when a subordinate will come to him asking about some policy or procedure that doesn’t seem right, he’ll feel the need to help the lower-level person by sharing with them insider information to which he’s privy.

The subordinate may leave with more understanding of the organization's issues -- but the problem isn't fixed.

3. The chief political officer. In some environments even a state-of-the-art GPS with automatic traffic updates is insufficient to help a manager navigate around the egos and peccadilloes. In such an organization, invariably, one bumps into politics. And consequently common sense won’t prevail.

This boss will take you to a quiet place to share his wisdom for your benefit. "You need to understand that this is a very political environment. Titles don't count. You need to know who REALLY does what and how things work around here.”

Each of these managers has given away his or her power. They will never be as effective as others.

And once you give your power away, it’s nearly impossible to pull it back. If you gain the reputation of being a "management weakling," no one will come to you to get things done. This will be tough to see through your eyes, however, and you may even get compliments or good assessments about your style.

But you will be bypassed on the really important things. Other people will get promoted ahead of you. And it will seem unfair. If career advancement is what you seek, you need to keep the size of your "management biceps" as big as possible.

Keep these rules of management in mind:

  1. No one else can take your power away. It can only be given away.
  2. Powerful people become more successful. A powerful person can get things done when most others cannot. Bosses recognize those who can get things done.
  3. Powerful people associate with other power players. And then they become more powerful.
  4. Associating with whiners won’t make you more powerful or help your career.

Here's to your future!

John

Career Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

27 comments
brian408
brian408

If the author's message evades you, you won't ever get it, but that's not a bad thing. The world needs both Chiefs and Indians to function well. Rarely is an individual good at both. The Chiefs in this crowd will quickly grasp the argument. My military training of many years ago remains some of my very best education, and this topic is well practiced within. They need to quickly separate potential leaders, then quickly develop them. They do.

donavonknight
donavonknight

If this guy offers to help you listen and be thankful. I have worked in many organizations where the son, daughter or one of their friends work for the company and can do no wrong. Everyone knows it but the new guy. If these people are being pointed out to you listen because the company will end your employment before they will theirs. This usually ends of with a request from the higher ups to show the person the right way. The right way often leads to you training your replacement with a family member or one of their friends.

ssaulino
ssaulino

In a capitalistic society there are only subjects and subordinates to the subjects. And to many subjects always means the death of capitalism. America is a great power giver and is trying like hell to get it back.

ssaulino
ssaulino

In a capitalistic society there are only subjects and subordinates to the subjects. And to many subjects always means the death of capitalism. America is a great power giver and is trying like hell to get it back.

ssaulino
ssaulino

The perception of power, that anyone could be given or give is in the head of the giver. To be relinquished of such power is the perception of those directly and indirectly related to the person. And if the giver and the reciever feels that (s)he has lost it.

ssaulino
ssaulino

The perception of power, that anyone could be given or give is in the head of the giver. To be relinquished of such power is the perception of those directly and indirectly related to the person. And if the giver and the reciever feels that (s)he has lost it.

Dented
Dented

There are "newbies" who come into an organization with tremendous knowledge and experience....but have a hard time figuring the culture of the place. In my experience, they tag along with a senior employee and lean on them a bit too much - thereby giving the impression that they are lacking in forward experience. The blame lies with the company, not the new employee.

codepoke
codepoke

Lincoln on Leadership by Phillips says ~the same things. Lincoln came into office with every excuse to lame duck his way through the secession of 13 states. He only won the election because the other party fielded 2 candidates and split their own vote. Every card in the deck was stacked against him, and he kept finding ways to get those things done that needed to be done. When Lincoln was finished, the presidency was a completely new position. He accreted power to the position at an unprecedented (and still hated) rate. His ambitious decision to save the Union at all costs led him to work around the sandwich boss problem, the politico problem and the even the honesty paradox. And when he found someone in his organization (whether the cabinet or the military) who would join him in getting things done, he supplied them with every tool he could. It worked. No matter which side of the Mason-Dixon line you're still defending today, Lincoln shows you how to get and keep power. Well done, sir.

zloeber
zloeber

A dictator leads by force (power) and has insecurities about losing their power so will strive to always stay above others at any cost. Whereas a true leader leads by example and strives to rise up others with him/her and make everyone more powerful and thus be more powerful themselves.

info
info

In the situation of the sandwich manager, the department head or other executive can EASILY take the power away. If the manager's decision is disagreeable to the subordinate, and they go directly to the head/executive which countermands the manager's decision (for better or worse), this just encourages the subordinates to skip the manager in the future... Even if the manager takes the issue up with the head/exec, sometimes they'll swear they won't get involved, but go right back to giving into the subordinates the first time something comes up.

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

I think I lost my power reading your article. ;-(

nighthawke
nighthawke

The three failures listed remind me of the Five reasons for failure in the Art of War. in fact 2 are very close to it. The weak general, and the general who worries over his men to much.

gjm123
gjm123

"Bosses recognize those who can get things done." Management see you as someone who gets stuff done. They don't get stuff done. So you're left 'doing stuff' while they get credit for it. Not a good career position.

gjm123
gjm123

"Bosses recognize those who can get things done." Management see you as someone who gets stuff done. They don't get stuff done. So you're left 'doing stuff' while they get credit for it. Not a good career position.

sboverie
sboverie

Lawrence Peters studied this and wrote about it in the "Peter Priciple:Why things go wrong". His theory is that a person will rise until they reach their level of incompetence and stay at that level. His example was a foreman who was good at directing his team and gets promoted to a job that doesn't use those skills and flounders trying to do the new job. Experience is a big factor for being able to apply past knowledge to new challenges. In order to get that experience one needs to have a strong interest in that kind of work as well as support from higher up the ladder to learn and understand the higher levels of the job. Mostly, it is about being a leader for the people in the group and managing resources like equipment and supplies. A leader does not give away power, a leader delegates but maintains responsibility. A leader can direct resources to those who need them to help improve the group. A manager who can not lead is the one who can not keep power. I like the definition of a leader by George McDonald Fraser that goes "a leader leads his group to a higher level of need". This is based on Maslow's heirarchy of needs that start at survival needs and works up to the goal of actualization.

melindashae
melindashae

It seems that everyone has their own opinions, and try as you might, sometimes character will show through in your management style. I feel the article is meant to lead you to think about what we, as individuals consider being effective or 'powerful'. I have been on both sides of the fence, as well as been the recipient of both kinds of managers. I have respect for the manager that feels obligated to 'help' by keeping his unit informed but I have also seen how this can cause doubt and gossip among the team. I have also seen managers that would not 'give away' anything-at all. This has caused the team to search out and lean on other resources-and inevitably caused a huge road block in communications. I have also tired both avenues, in my own life. I believe there is a happy medium-but you have to find it for yourself. Trial and error are certainly the best learning tools-and as mentioned-your character will certainly reflect in your management style-regardless. The object is to be mindful of your choices -and weigh the outcomes-beforehand. You can't put yourself completely in the shoes of the employees-because you are their leader-but you can't forget where they are coming from either. Reserve yourself in 'giving away power' so as to maintain your status-and the respect you deserve. But on the same token-remember they are people trying to do a job and we are all in it for the same goals. Lead the team-don't drive them. You get power-with respect. You become the person of power with this respect and with knowledge that allows them to know you can be counted on. It's just my experience that has given me this ability to see this a bit more objectively.

clandress
clandress

This article is very limited but does include good information. Keeping your power is absolutely essential but then so is building your team and relationships. What I wonder, after reading this article, is how do you get power? How does giving away your power and delegating relate? How can you be a person of power?

Flyers70
Flyers70

I'm not sure what the author is advocating with this article and especially with his anecdote about the "I'm all about honesty" manager. Is he advocating lying to employees? Because I've always had far more respect for a manager who has told me the truth (whether or not he knew I would like it) than some manager obviously using a script written by senior managers or HR.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

A projection from your mind that effects reality. This article is talking in broad terms about a range of problems but I think this is the crux. If a manager is depressed or defeatist that attitude will lead to weak leadership and a loss of power. I hate to use words like "optimism" and "thinking positively" because there is more to it than that. There is some importance to thinking in positive terms like "This is what we can do" instead of saying that something can't be done. The other part is doing the footwork, talking to the right people and creative problem solving. There is a certain ammount of input that your subordinates need from you. This is why you are the manager. If you have nothing to contribute to the project then you should be looking for a new position.

bluemoonsailor
bluemoonsailor

Completely void of any substance. What is "giving away your power"? How do you prevent "giving away your power"? What attitudes and actions unintentionally "give away your power"? And, most importantly, how do you get it back? Answer those questions and now you have an article.

shkfaizalam
shkfaizalam

This is absolutely to the mark. I had few experiences where there is a company who executed this, in whatever wins and engagements they got, finally they were Acquired by another company and they continue to do so, until they are stopped....

czekalca
czekalca

Let's all say Hallelujah and Amen! Could someone please remind the power grabbers that the only "power" you take with you when you die is the respect and appreciation of others. Dictatorial and credit-grabbing managers who use everyone else for stepping stones end up at St. Peter's Gate with empty pockets!

TBBrick
TBBrick

With a Head/Exec like that, it's time for the sandwich manager to head on to greener pastures. In the mean time, what the sandwich mgr can do is get buy-in from the Head/Exec on potentially disagreeable decisions. Or better yet, have the decisions come from the Head/Exec.

codepoke
codepoke

The boss who gives an employee honest reasons not to do his job is doing them both a disservice. A leader will honestly list the obstacles within the context of the tools he can provide to overcome, endure, or remove them.

codepoke
codepoke

It states, though maybe not clearly enough for you and a dozen other people, you give away your power when you advance excuses outside of yourself for being unable to do those things you must do. The article also clearly states you cannot "get power back." You obtain power simply by getting meaningful things done. That is often hard, hence the differentiator.

RudHud
RudHud

Maybe we have to subscribe to his business service to find those answers.

george.skalley
george.skalley

"You obtain power simply by getting meaningful things done. That is often hard, hence the differentiator." I would suggest getting meaningful things done is a means to achieve credibility, but that doesn't automatically lead to the accumulation of power. Credibility, like knowledge, is a merely a token to success. If it transpires that even the most credible professionals can't translate these tokens to accumulate power and keep power, then you have to look deeply at the root causes. Those causes that are immediately pliant are those causes that originate from ones self.

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