Barry Zweibel, here, welcoming you to theNovember 2015 edition of my LeadershipTraction newsletter. Sometimes the only thing that separates us from our most outstanding work is one new idea or one turn of the phrase that puts everything in place. My hope is that this provides you with exactly that.
Be honest: Which term better defines your leadership style: flashlight or blowtorch?
In other words, do you typically use your leadership authority to create ‘light’ – that is, greater employee clarity and perspective, eagerness and attentiveness – so those around you can better ‘see’ what they need to accomplish?
Or do you turn up the ‘heat’ when others don’t seem to understand what you want, and start blaming, chastising, publicly criticizing, and maybe even bullying others out of frustration – regardless of who gets scorched in the process?
Back in the 1920’s – yes, almost a full century ago! – Mary Parker Follett became one of the true pioneers of organizational theory and behavior when she articulated a workplace dynamic called ‘Power OVER’ to describe how bosses would use their authority to induce their direct reports to concede to their wishes through coercion, dominance, and other abuses of power. It was a very popular way in which to lead, at the time. Regrettably, it still is.
Bosses who take a ‘Power OVER’ approach in their employee interactions typically say things like:
“Do it because I say so.”
“That’s your problem.”
“You’re either with me or against me.”
“It’s my way or the highway.”
“Just get it done.”
“I’m the boss, not you. Never forget that I’m the boss!”
‘Power OVER’ is about using one’s authority to shut others down and force compliance. It’s about taking legitimate employee questions and turning them into win/lose showdowns of power, where the boss not only show s/he has far MORE power than the employee, but that the employee has far LESS power than the boss, too.
When experts say that ’employees don’t leave companies, they leave bosses,’ this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.
In contrast, ‘Power WITH’ is a more collaborative-based approach to power, authority, and problem-solving – one that uses the logic of one’s thinking to sway opinion, rather than a brute force attack. It’s where bosses allow employees to help direct how the boss’s power is used.
You can recognize ‘Power WITH’ interactions because the boss asks things like:
“What do you need from me on on this?”
“Where are you stuck and how can I help?”
“Do you need to talk about how you’ll do that?”
“What other facets of this should we be focusing on?”
“Would it be helpful for me to explain why this is an important assignment?”
Paradoxically, this is not an abdication of power by the boss. Rather, it’s the consolidation and expansion of the boss’s authority through its targeted use on behalf of helping direct reports do a better job than they might otherwise.
Leadership Light versus Authoritative Heat
In the context of change management, ‘Power OVER’ is about heat – a boss using bluster and having a total disregard for collateral damage, as s/he calls calls attention to an issue or pressing priority. Thematically, it’s like using a blowtorch to melt employee resistance.
‘Power WITH’, on the other hand, is more about light – like turning on a flashlight to help employees ‘see’ where they need to go and what they need to do. It eliminates resistance by showing there’s really no need TO resist.
If your job responsibilities are simple enough that you don’t need any help finding the answers, ‘Power OVER’ may work just fine for you. Employees will grouse, and leave – or grouse and stay – but who cares because they’re likely not providing with you much value-added, anyway.
On the other hand, if your responsibilities include any real complexity to it at all, you’re going to need to be able to rely on the able assistance of your staff to help you succeed. As such, taking a ‘Power WITH’ approach will likely serve you, and them – and your company, customers and stakeholders – much, much better.
Sure, I get there should only be ONE #1 Priority. And yet…
… from the Ask An Expert forum at the Mentor’s Guild1 …
Question: How to prioritize when everything is Top Priority?
“After a long corporate career, I have moved to a smaller organization in my industry. I work on several simultaneous projects and report to the CEO. I have fewer staff and more responsibilities, which I was expecting. However, I am quite surprised by a culture where everything seems to be Top Priority…all the time. What’s the best way for me to bring this up? I want to understand if this is a passing phase or the organization’s culture.”
Your situation is not atypical for those moving from larger to smaller organizations. Therefore, let me take a slightly different approach than my colleagues have and encourage you to look at what improvements YOU can make in how you juggle priorities.
Some suggestions for becoming a much better juggler:
• Accept that any frustration or productivity loss you’re experiencing when shifting between priorities is self-imposed.
• Refuse to grouse about how inconvenient and disruptive the sudden shifts are — your job doesn’t allow for the luxury of self-pity. Oh well. When priorities are plentiful, know that the effective utilization of your time is what’s really #1. Your time is a scarce resource; use it more wisely and powerfully. (Instead of taking 60 minutes for a meeting; finish in 45; instead of asking 5-7 questions to get what you need, ask 2 or 3; instead of focusing on activities, focus on desired outcomes; etc.)
• Envision your job less linearly — more like a program manager responsible for multiple projects (all at once) rather than a project manger responsible for only one (at a time).
• Get significantly better at shifting more seamlessly between priorities by studying what those who do it better than you are doing that you are not. Study, too, what they are not doing that you are. Then take those best practices and make them your own.
• Shift from a priority-based focus to a time-based focus, meaning, start with a time interval (say 15 minutes), determine what you can do to move this priority meaningfully forward within that time frame, and do that. Then repeat the process for the next time interval/priority, etc. Challenge yourself to achieve increasingly meaningful outcomes in decreasing amounts of time.
Is it easy? No. Is it important? Absolutely. Be proud that you get to report directly to the CEO, that your job is to keep things moving for him/her and the company, and that this quicker tempo is something you’re working to master.
Want to become a better leader? Want to help others accelerate their own leadership development?
Leadership Haiku is an inviting and inventive exploration of how to become a better leader – without all the clutter of unnecessary words!
Each 17-syllable haiku provides a quick, energizing burst of insight and inspiration – and the book's got HUNDREDS of them!
Newer managers will welcome its insights and perspectives. More seasoned leaders will appreciate its relevance and range.
Leadership Haiku: Increasing Your Impact And Influence 17 Syllables At A Time is available at Amazon.
Get your copy, today – and a few few more, as gifts, to share!
I hope you found this issue of the LeadershipTraction newsletter a helpful and enjoyable read. If so, please forward a copy to those you think it might also benefit from it and recommend they subscribe, as well.
Thanks! - bz