!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Constructive Exercise of Power

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Constructive Exercise of Power

An earlier post discussed the "paradox of power." When you look at the research on how people use power, it shows that "empathy and social intelligence are vastly more important to acquiring and exercising power than are force, deception, or terror." On the other hand,
... studies also show that once people assume positions of power, they're likely to act more selfishly, impulsively, and aggressively, and they have a harder time seeing the world from other people's points of view. This presents us with the paradox of power: The skills most important to obtaining power and leading effectively are the very skills that deteriorate once we have power.
For more on the dynamics of power, you can look at the materials John Carroll and Li Tao pulled together for their 2006 course in managerial psychology at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Particularly helpful is Lecture 17 (pdf), delivered by guest lecturer Maria Quijada, now a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

At the beginning of her lecture, Quijada offers the definition of power that Jeffrey Pfeffer, one of my favorite thinkers on management issues, uses:
The potential ability to influence behavior, to change the course of events, to overcome resistance and to get people to do things that they would not otherwise do. Politics and influence are the processes, the actions, the behaviors through which this potential power is utilized and realized.
All of the lecture notes, which fit onto eleven PowerPoint slides, are worth thinking about. To give you an idea of where Quijada ends up, here is her summary of how someone, presumably wanting to avoid the unfortunate aspects of the paradox of power, can best manage his/her power:
  • Create resources, find new domains in which to operate

  • Build alliances by using reciprocity

  • Build your network — be a bridge, be central

  • Build your reputation, be careful of first impressions

  • Be in the right unit of the organization for exercising influence

  • Gather information, learn, know what is going on
An excellent complementary summary of strategies for leveraging power effectively was offered by the Center for Creative Leadership in their December 2008 online newsletter.


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