How To Get More Power At Work
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Too many people think, “I lack the authority to have any real power at work.” It’s not only a false belief; it’s pretty much impossible to live in today’s world by relying solely on titular power (i.e. power based on having a big title like vice president).
There are seven big sources of power that emerge in organizational life, but only two of them, legitimate power (position and title) and coercive power (fear/punishment-based), require any real formal authority. Beyond these two ‘hard’ powers, there is power as a reward for doing something else (if you do project X you can lead the team for project Y). Reward power is great, but it’s circumstantial and not a reliable source of power. Referent power (folks really like you) and connection power (who you know), are effective, but typically hard to get and even harder to build a career on.
The softer and subtler ‘expert’ and ‘informational’ powers are where you want to put your focus. These are actually the two biggest sources of power, they don’t require any formal or titular power, and they are easy to build. Parenthetically, I hear some people say that they aren’t driven by power at all. And that’s possible. But the latest data—from the online quiz “Are You Driven By Power Or Achievement?”—shows that 52% of people do have at least some power drive.
Informational and expert power are how people in their 20s find themselves in charge of companies with billion-dollar market valuations. These young folks didn’t rise to the top because they are so well loved, or because they are wildly connected. Nor did they take a long and winding path through some organizational hierarchy. In success story after success story we see they leveraged their informational and expert power.
Informational and expert power removes you from the unenviable position of having to ask people for stuff. Say you have a pool of political or interpersonal capital with another person. If you go and ask them for something because of your connection power, for example, you make a withdrawal from that capital. And the more you withdraw, the more your pool of capital decreases. The nice thing about informational and expert power is that these sources of power are gained by making deposits.
Say you bring your boss a new bit of information that will really interest him, an article or a study or a proposal with the juicy bits already highlighted. Most bosses don’t have the time to read everything out there. You say, “I think you’ll find this interesting,” and just with that you are expanding your pool of political capital with this person. Or maybe you invest the time to learn how to use the new software your company is using. And when the boss has a question about how to run a report you just step in and say, “I just figured that out. I can run the report for you or I’m happy to show you how to do it.” Once again, you are expanding your pool of capital.
Deep, underlying power comes from discovering and solving other people’s pain. Everyone has a pain or a problem that they want or need solved, but you may have to dig deep. For example, when the boss says, “We can’t afford it,” about a great new software solution the company could really use, it doesn’t always mean they are unwilling to spend money to fix a problem. Learn what the pain really is. Maybe the company doesn’t have the cash, financing is unavailable, or it’s P&L impact, timeframes, risk aversion or something else. Use your expert and informational power to help find ways to solve that pain.
In this era where information, not title, is the power source, we can expand our power just by learning, growing and developing our expertise and informational sources. People will start turning to us because we’ve made these deposits. So next time the boss has to decide who will lead the team, he thinks, ‘‘Pat seems to know everything that’s going on. I’ll pick Pat.” Or, “Sally brought me all those great articles. I’ll ask Sally.” The boss turns to us as experts because we’ve been building up our cache and we haven’t been doing it in any kind of cheesy or inauthentic way. We’ve been doing it in a very intellectual way.
Informational sources are all around us and most are free. All we have to do is avail ourselves of them to tap into these tremendous sources of power. Start with your company’s annual report or that memo the boss just sent out. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve spoken in front of large audiences where I’ve asked the question, “How many of you have actually read your company’s annual report?” If I’m talking to 1,000 people, I typically see only 50 to 100 hands go up while everyone else squirms sheepishly. I did a study that found that a job seeker is three times more likely to have read an annual report than are the company’s actual employees. Think about it.
You no longer need to be the senior vice president with a big corner office to have power. Information and expertise provide an amazing source of power. It’s possible to succeed on the basis of what you know and what you can contribute to others rather than just how much you can smile and repeat somebody’s name. So when you think about developing your own power base, look for ways you can help others by sharing your knowledge or expertise to make introductions, improve someone’s day, etc. The more deposits you make, and the more value you provide, the more you become a trusted advisor to whom people turn as a confidant and to discuss important issues.