Our current president has been given the opportunity of doing something that many new presidents do. With his party holding a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, he has leverage.
This gives him the ability to push legislation through congress with relative ease. Bill Clinton and Barak Obama both started their presidencies with majorities in both houses.
This led them to use their leverage to push legislation through congress as well. But those two former presidents lost those majorities in the mid-term elections two years later.
While there are many factors involved, it is safe to say that taking advantage of their majority leverage may have offended some voters. This could have caused them to swing to the opposite party when voting for congressmen two years later.
I’ve seen similar occurrences in the business world. Someone has a very powerful position and uses it to manipulate people. Sometimes they mistreat their employees, making them do unpleasant tasks or publicly berating them. Sometimes they force policy through to the chagrin of their peers within the company.
But the same thing can happen that happened to the former presidents. Someday that powerful manager is going to need something from some of those people he was so abusive to. Then they learn a valuable lesson: Overplaying your leverage has political consequences. Those people may be a lot less willing to cooperate with someone who showed them no respect in the past.
While working in business and politics are different animals, we all know that there are plenty of politics that go on in the business world. It may be necessary to “play nice” with people even if you have the power to be otherwise.
As a parent, some of the best advice I received from a friend was to pick your battles. Kids get out of line a lot. If I had reprimanded them every time, that’s all I would have done. And the kids would probably get pretty tired of my demands.
I learned that you let some things go and pick the fights that are worth fighting.
Two types of power
The same thing goes for getting things done at work. You could force things through with all of your power. But that could be short lived. In the business world, you have two types of power, official and unofficial power.
Official power is the power that the company bestows on you for your position. If you’re the boss, you have official power over the people that report to you.
Unofficial power is what you get from people that will help you out. If you are nasty to the people that work for you, they will probably do the minimum work that they must do under your official power. But if you treat them well and they respect you, they will give you additional unofficial power. This will likely get more done for you by your people.
You get unofficial power from other people within the organization. When you cooperate with your peers and help them get what they want, they will likely grant you unofficial power. You will get their cooperation for help on a project or to help get a policy changed.
Overplaying your leverage can hurt both types of power. You don’t get much unofficial power if you are seen overplaying your leverage too often. It could also stunt your growth in the company. Make enough people mad and the word gets out that you’re not a team player. If that gets back to the executives, they may be more likely to pass you up for that next promotion. That’s a big hit to your official power if you can’t build on it.
So here are some tips for balancing your power in the workplace.
Play nice. Perhaps you have a powerful position. You may be able to get your way at the expense of another department’s manager. But you may need that manager’s help someday. Establishing a reputation as a team player could give you more unofficial power than your official power. And that could come in handy.
Treat people like you would like to be treated. Some see it as a sign of weakness to be nice to people. “I’m not here to be liked. I’m here to get things done.” But being kind and fair is not being weak. In fact, it could give you enough unofficial power to make you much stronger.
Give and take. Some people see everything as a competition that they must win. They don’t stop to think what the other person may want. That type of person doesn’t see win-win scenarios very often. They only see things as win-lose and they don’t want to lose. Open your mind and negotiate with people in a way that will make them want to deal with you again.
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
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