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!


Career Coach