Are you powerful? Or powerless?

Ever felt like it's impossible to do your job? Perhaps you've given away your power. In this blog, John McKee discusses how that can happen, and what you need to know to fix it.

I was working with a woman years ago who was frustrated because she felt powerless in her role.

Since then I've heard this complaint many times. From both men and women, although it's increasingly more prevalent across a wide range of industries, roles, and levels of manager. There's no need for that. And it sure doesn't need to happen to you.

Why do some managers find themselves in situations where they have less influence or ability to make change than others around them? Let's consider a few possibilities:

1. I'm a sandwich manager. Wedged between a high-level executive who is very hands on and with aggressive subordinates who want to move ahead quickly, the manager is sandwiched between two tough-to-handle levels.

This is what I hear from these people: "My boss goes directly to my subordinate and tells him to do something which 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. I'm just trying to be honest. This manager wants to help others understand the "real" situation he is facing. 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.

By helping them to understand the reasoning and or compromises that were taken into account in a decision or plan, he hopes his subordinate will become more aligned with him. Perhaps the subordinate will recognize just how difficult it is to work with those "upstairs" and give the manager more credit for how tough a job he has.

3. I work in a very political place. In some environments a road map won't suffice. Even a state-of-the-art NAV system with automatic traffic updates may be insufficient to help a manager navigate around the egos and peccadilloes. In that kind of organization, invariably, one bumps into politics. In those places common sense won't prevail.

"My team has to realize that they're in a very political environment and they need to know who REALLY does what and how things work around here."

Each of these managers have given away their power. They did not realize it at the time.

And once power is gone, it's nearly impossible to claw it back. Once you are recognized as being powerless, no one will come to you to get things done. Below you or above you people may still regard you well and you may even get compliments or good assessments about your style. But you will be bypassed on the really important things.

So next time you feel inclined to do something that may inadvertently erode your power base, keep these axioms of management in mind:

1. No one 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. Seniors recognize those who can

get things done.

3. Powerful people associate with other power players. And become more

powerful. Associating with wimps won't make you more powerful or help

you move ahead.

- john

Leadership Coach