The Level-Up series at Management Excellence is dedicated to supporting your professional development on the road to senior management.
Ask and answer a simple question: “How did the three most powerful people in your firm (without a “C” in their titles) arrive at their current positions?”
In most cases, the answer is the same: they “got stuff done” and they did it by drawing upon the skills and energy of others.
That’s it. No backs stabbed…no fingers stepped on during the race up the ladder. They grew their power by identifying the vexing problems that needed solving and they figured out how to get the best and brightest around them to help develop and implement the solutions.
While the formula is easy to decode, the art and act of growing your power in an organization requires you to focus your efforts on a few key activities.
Consider the Case of Bob:
Bob joined a major software firm as a front-line manager in the support organization. The firm was just entering what would become a period of remarkable growth and there were more challenges and stress points than there were people to deal with them. Bob recognized this situation as an opportunity and very quickly established an understanding of the top priorities of his direct manager and worked to help her succeed with those challenges.
Bob’s manager quickly developed confidence in his ability to solve larger issues and she assigned him to lead a number of visible strategic initiatives (projects). Bob recognizing the size of the challenges and the need for help from across the organization worked tirelessly to extend his network of contacts and to draw upon this network for resources. And Bob did everything in his power to ensure that these were career enhancing opportunities for his colleagues. In particular, he worked hard to give visibility to team members and to dispense credit and accolades widely. He made certain to shine the spotlight on others at all times.
As the successes piled up and Bob was given the opportunity to lead ever-larger boundary spanning initiatives, his powerful network continued to supply the know-how necessary to successfully complete the initiatives. Bob’s reputation with his senior executives as someone who knew how to lead teams and execute on the key issues put him on a fast promotion path. His reputation with his colleagues as a leader worth following helped his cause. Bob maneuvered from the role of manager to the role of a VP within 4 years…a meteoric rise by this firm’s standards. Importantly, Bob could still look at himself in the mirror and be comfortable that no backs were stabbed and no fingers stepped on as he raced up the ladder. To the contrary, he carried people with him.
I love this story for all of the lessons it offers to us as we strive to help our firms and to grow in our careers.
6. Lessons from Bob to Help You Grow Your Power:
1. Rethink your view on power. It’s not about the bigger office, better parking spot and invitation to meetings in mahogany furnished conference rooms. It’s all about you developing the freedom to work on the issues that matter while helping others in the process. It’s the freedom to act.
2. Calibrate your priorities with the priorities of your boss. In coaching situations, I ask participants to describe their boss’s priorities. In too many situations, the boss doesn’t tell and the employee doesn’t ask. That’s a problem you should fix today.
3. Learn to connect networks! Power resides in your access to talent. The most powerful people in your firm are those who can tap knowledge, insights and support from a variety of sources depending upon the situation. The work of growing power and contributing more to your firm cannot be achieved by remaining in your silo. Not only do you need to expand your network across your firm (and industry), but you need to learn to connect disparate networks to solve the big issues.
4. Mind the gap! The real meaty issues are the ones that exist in the gray areas between the silos. Every firm has a variety of big challenges that exist somewhere between functions. Learn to pick those up and draw upon your extended network(s) to tackle them.
5. Power is there for the taking. Again, I’m not emphasizing a dark view to power. What’s there for the taking are problems that require solutions. I’ve observed cultures where I’m certain if there was a garbage can on fire in the corner, people would notice it and talk about it and wonder whether it would get any worse…but since it wasn’t their responsibility, do nothing to put it out. Those are your opportunities! Seize them.
6. Shine the spotlight liberally on others. Remember…your goal is to gain the freedom to work on issues that matter while helping others at the same time. It’s never about you. You must give liberally to get power.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
The formula for growing your power is simple. The work is noble and good. Get it right and you’ll learn to enjoy being the one who determines what gets done in your organization. After all, those who have the power decide what’s important. After a fair amount of time of people telling you what to do, it’s infinitely more enjoyable to decide what to do.
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.