Positional Power is a Thing

A follow up to What You Disregard, You Accept: Red Flags for CEOs

A few years back, I was in a discussion with a group of emerging managers. One expressed concern: their company was about to publish their first org chart, ever. How would people react?

Another participant had been through it before and offered comfort. They observed that once a company has managers, there’s already an org chart: it’s just not on paper yet.

A newer manager — and yes, this may mean a newer CEO — may naively deny the power inherent in their position.

You may not understand the weight your words and actions assume because you’re the boss. It may seem easier, nicer, or just more reasonable to approach people as though you’re their peer.

You’re not their peer.

I’ve written before about an early lesson learned. I asked a junior staffer an innocent question, and noticed that he looked like he wanted to cry. (I wish I could say that this was in my first management role, sigh.)

While you may wish to be friendly with people, you’ll find that it’s tough to actually be friends. Even if you brought an existing friendship to the venture with you, it can be difficult.

When you’re the boss, your incentives are different. And everyone knows it.

It has (thankfully) become less fashionable to believe that your organization can redistribute power by disrupting the traditional organization. A company’s rewards and liabilities belong to its owners — and even with generous options, most of your team members probably aren’t truly your partners.

I’ve also written about the weaksauce way we sometimes use the word empowerment. tl;dr, just don’t.

I’m not here to be power’s cheerleader. I can’t balance the equation between good and devastatingly wrong uses of power.

It is a wrong view, though, to deny power as an element of humanity in your workplace. Or to try to wish it away.

When you can acknowledge power, and how it operates, you’re better positioned to be a good leader, ally, and citizen.

This goes especially for your own power.

Photo: 76075 Wonder Woman Warrior Battle by Brickset, via Flickr under CC2.0 license.

(This is a follow up to What You Disregard, You Accept: Red Flags for CEOs; it was originally posted at my blog.)