5 Common Sense Ideas for Growing Your Power at Work

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsWhile we often associate the concept of “power” in the workplace as something bestowed by title or gained and maintained through political gamesmanship, you neither require a promotion, nor do you need to plot and claw your way to the next level to grow your power.

In most workplaces there’s an over-abundance of the stuff just lying around waiting for someone to pick it up and apply it. There’s no reason why that someone can’t be you.

First, Some Context on Power at Work:

Power and it’s close cousin, Influence, are not dirty words. Both are components of every organization’s environment and both must be carefully cultivated for you to succeed whether you lead teams or functions or serve as an individual contributor.

Those who leverage power drive the organization forward by making decisions, by developing, or leading key initiatives and by bringing the right resources and expertise to bear for a given challenge.

Nothing significant happens in an organization without the application of power and influence wielded by those who have carefully cultivated these qualities.

5 Ideas to Help You Grow Your Power and Keep Your Integrity Intact:

1. Start simple. Pick a visibly vexing problem and lead the charge to solve it. It’s amazing how many visible workplace problems go unattended. It’s the fire in the garbage can syndrome. Groups look at it, talk about it, wonder about it, but no one seems to do anything about it. That’s your cue!

2. Serve as a Network Connector. Cultivate relationships with peers and higher-ups in functions other than your own. Look for opportunities to bring members of disparate groups together on projects or one of those problem-solving activities you grabbed control of in #1 above. Your knowledge of and access to other resources, particularly people or teams with unique skills is a valuable source of power.

3. Tune in to Your Boss’s Goals and Help Her Achieve Them. Nothing cultivates upward influence like actively supporting and advocating for your boss. Leverage those cross-functional relationships you’re busy developing to push her agenda along. As she succeeds, you succeed.

4. Attach Yourself to High Visibility Projects. There’s nothing particularly shameful or evil about striving to participate in the big projects with senior executive visibility. Do a good job with the first three on this list, and your odds of successfully attaching yourself to the firm’s “Failure is Not an Option” initiatives go up considerably.

5. Make Heroes Out of Your Colleagues and Team Members. Seriously. A grateful network is a powerful network. Help those around you gain visibility and achieve their goals and you’ll gain long-standing support from a growing group of thankful co-workers. Contrary to the many misguided attempts I’ve seen from people who lived to grab the spotlight, I prefer to shine it on those around me making things happen. It never hurts to have a large number of people who are grateful to you for your support.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Jeffrey Pfeffer in his excellent book, Power—Why Some People Have it and Other’s Don’t, offers ample evidence for the importance of cultivating power to lead a happy (and even healthy) work life. Healthy and happy are what it’s all about. Instead of associating growing power as something requiring you to step all over others on your way to the top, try the noble frontal assault on this important workplace asset. You might just be surprised how easy it is to become that person calling the shots, guiding the resources and making things happen across your organization.

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What the Boss Learns About You in Every Conversation

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsWhile you may not know this, that idea you bounced off of your manager the other day and your response to her questions on one of your projects both play a critical role in your near future success and the speed of growth in your paycheck!

The best managers work in a perpetual mode of talent scouting, focused on assessing the people on their teams and actively looking for individuals they can trust with more responsibility. The impressions you create when the boss is present run deep and will positively or adversely impact your next steps.

What Effective Managers are Listening and Looking For:

  • Do you understand our business?
  • Do you understand our customers?
  • Do you think through issues from all perspectives?
  • Do you bring fresh creativity to solving problems?
  • Do you understand how your ideas or approaches might impact other parts of the organization?
  • Do you rail and rally against “this is the way we’ve always done it” thinking?
  • Can you build coalitions and rally resources to resolve problems?
  • Are your ideas innovative?
  • Do you display leadership even if you’re not in charge of anyone but yourself?
  • Does your thinking and do your approaches align with our values?
  • Have you sought out others for help?
  • Are you operating with a sense of controlled urgency?
  • Have you learned from prior mistakes?
  • Are you striving to develop yourself and advance your career?

On the Dark Side:

  • Are you attempting to manipulate me?
  • Do you have an agenda that you’re not openly highlighting?
  • Do you focus on others instead of yourself?
  • Do you strive to show everyone you are the smartest person in the room?
  • Is the solution to a problem always to give you more people and power?
  • When you talk, does my spider-sense tingle on whether you fit our culture and values?
  • Do you take credit or dispense credit?
  • Do you delay, forestall and derail with your hesitancy?
  • Are you on auto-pilot in your career and in this job?

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Someone once asked me when I take the time to evaluate performance and my response was something to the effect of “During every conversation and in every meeting.”

Jack Welch once offered this comment on the role of a leader: “Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach and build self-confidence.”

I love coaching and helping build self-confidence, but the best bosses are always in “evaluation” mode. And while evaluation is best handled over time and through many exposures, don’t discount the impact of your performance in the moment.


Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

 

It’s Your Career—A Guide to Becoming a Better Employee

It'sYourCareerWhile guidance on developing as a leader is plentiful…perhaps in over abundance, there’s relatively little in the daily flow of business and management writing devoted to developing as an effective employee.

For just a few minutes, let’s turn the world of leadership and management advice upside down and take on the perspective of the boss and what she’s looking for from you as a member of her team.

10 Things the Boss is Looking for From Effective Employees:

1. Your Presence AND Engagement. We all know that you’ve got to be present to play…that’s table stakes. What the boss really wants beyond your physical presence is active involvement and full attention from the gray matter between your ears. For that period of time when you’re supposed to be on, the focus must be on your work, on collaborating with others to solve problems and on finding a way to meet the challenges in front of you and in front of your team or function. Leave the kids, the dogs, the dentist and the divorce outside of the office.

2. Some Excitement for Your Work. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable it is to engage with, support, develop and promote people who are passionate about their work. It’s amazing how hard most bosses will go to avoid or remove those who are phoning it in every day.

3. Solutions. Some employees are experts at describing problems, but forget to offer ideas and solutions. Spend too much time talking about problems and all that the boss hears is whine, whine, whine. No boss promotes a whiner. Never frame up a problem without offering ideas, and be sure to include yourself as a volunteer to help implement the solutions.

4. Creativity. Working with and managing creative problem solvers is one of the true highlights of almost every boss’s job. Real creativity…different ways of sizing situations or considering solutions and developing new approaches to exploit opportunities, are all priceless to the boss.

5. Speed. Remember that old ad with a headline of “The Boss is On His Way” and employees were shown moving through the office with flames coming out of their rear ends? Well if not, imagine it. Yes, speed and urgency are of the essence. Get it in gear! Don’t let those programs, commitments and follow-up items linger. Nothing annoys a boss more than an employee who says he’ll do something and then it moves at pre-global warming glacial pace.

6. Just the Right Level of Communication. I’m always amazed at employees who don’t take the time to figure out and deliver on the boss’s preferred communication style. If your boss is an active communicator, then don’t distance yourself and make him or her chase you for updates. If your boss is one of those “don’t bug me unless the world is ending and you can’t fix it on your own” types, the frequent updates will just annoy her. Frequency, subjects and level of detail are all important issues you for you to figure out and tailor to meet the boss’s communication needs.

7. Interest in Your Own Development. We’re suckers for people who want to improve their performance and improve their positions and careers. Tell the boss you are interested in developing. Come to the discussion with ideas on where you want to go. Show that you’ve been doing your homework. Show that you are spending your own time improving yourself and then open the door to working together to help you achieve your goals. We melt when approached by people who care enough to push themselves and most of us will move mountains to support those individuals.

8. Your Feedback. Yes, we all need feedback, even bosses. Sadly, as people climb the ladder in the world of bossdom, the flow of incoming feedback tends to slow to an occasional drop of good insight. All good bosses are striving to improve. Find a delicate but clear way to help the boss improve around a specific issue. If he bites your head off, that may not be a good boss. The rest however will be grateful for any useful performance input.

9. Your Thoughtful Opinions and Occasional Polite Dissension. Believe it or not, many bosses truly value employees who share their ideas and offer different perspectives. They value complete thinkers who are confident enough not to just nod their heads. Of course, they also value employees who embrace a decision and act upon it, even if the decision goes against the employee’s recommendations.

10. Your Avoidance of the Office Boss-Bashing Olympics. Bashing the boss ranks up there as one of the world’s oldest full contact sports. It’s tempting to be one of the gang, but that’s a gang you want to avoid. Out of respect for yourself and your situation, skip the boss bashing…regardless of your own opinions. And for a good boss driving controversial change, the bashing will be plentiful and she’ll value your support more than you can imagine.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You own your career…you own your performance and whether or not you like it, we all report to someone. As Jeffrey Pfeffer offers in his book, Power, someone must choose us to be successful. Instead of being a pain in the boss’s neck, try putting some time and energy into the ten items above. You’ll find work that much more enjoyable, and it doesn’t suck to be on the winning side of promotions and career growth.

Related Post: 

If the Boss Asks You the Time, Don’t Tell Her How to Build a Watch

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

It’s Your Career-7 Key Do’s and Don’ts for the Newly Minted MBA

It'sYourCareerIt’s graduation season again in the U.S. and for most newly minted MBA graduates, it’s time for a reality check. Here are some hard-won words of wisdom on how to navigate the steps immediately following your graduation.

All over the U.S., there’s a fresh new crop of MBA candidates preparing to say goodbye to their classmates as they wrap up what will be for many, the final phase of their academic careers. A key question on their minds is, “What’s next?”

For the graduates, there’s an expectation that the degree will reasonably and quickly translate into new opportunities, fresh promotions and improved earning power. While those who graduate from the top-tier schools may find themselves on a fast or at least faster track towards opportunities and increased earnings, many (read: most) MBA graduates face a reality that looks an awful lot like more of the same, albeit, with a bit more free time.

There will be ceremonies and speeches and parties, and rounds of drinks offered up by coworkers at local watering holes.  Bosses will congratulate the new graduates, and then June will melt into July, and in many cases, not much will change for the now former students.

For those who find themselves facing a post-school return to corporate or professional normalcy, without the hoped-for “pop” from the degree, here are some thoughts on coping and capitalizing:

7 Key Do’s and Don’ts for Newly Minted MBAs:

1. Do accept that your boss views you the same on the Monday after graduation as she did last Friday. Nothing has fundamentally changed about you in her mind. Sorry, but there’s no immediate mantle of legitimacy or wisdom bestowed upon you as you shake hands and grab the diploma. You’re a work-in-process, just like the rest of us.

2. Do congratulate yourself for having the intestinal fortitude it takes to complete your degree while working, balancing family responsibilities and all of the other challenges of life. Believe it or not, your current and many future bosses will view your accomplishment not so much as remarkable or rare, but rather as a sign of your tenacity and ability to stay-the-course.

3. Don’t expect a promotion just because of the degree. It happens, but it’s not as common as you might have anticipated. The almost immediate post-MBA promotions are most often an outcome of a development program already in-place coupled with the recognition that the timing is right to task you with more. Every boss knows that the new MBA will toy with the idea of moving to greener ($) pastures, however, if you weren’t on the high-potential or fast-tack list prior to the degree, the sheepskin won’t make much of a difference in the current environment. Translation, you’ll have to navigate your own way up or out.

4. Do use the milestone as an opportunity to work with your boss and refresh your professional development plan.  It’s a great time to sit down with your boss and update or create a professional development plan. There’s every reason for you to assert that you can and want to do more for the firm, and every civilized boss will recognize the need to start feeding this fresh appetite or risk losing you.

5. Don’t even remotely hint that unless you are promoted you are gone. It’s time to show what you can do, not show that after 3 years and $150,000, you’ve grown arrogant.

6. Do accept that the completion of your MBA is the beginning of your next apprenticeship as a leader and a professional. Grad school doesn’t teach you how to lead, nor does it turn you into a great strategist, a future CEO or a management innovator.  You’ve apprenticed on the tools…mostly the science of management (hey, no jokes about the dismal science, please!), and you’ve got a license to begin applying them.  The real work of learning to lead and learning how to create value for your stakeholders has just begun.

7. Do recognize that your primary task is how to make yourself more valuable to everyone around you. Now that you are no longer distracted by school, it’s time to answer, “What have you done for us lately?” Accomplishments are the currency of the realm, not degrees!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Congratulations! I’ll buy the first round and then tomorrow, we’ve got to figure out how to thump competitors and survive and thrive in this incredibly complex and fast-moving world. Sure hope you paid attention. Now show me what you’ve learned!

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

It’s Your Career! Now is the Time to Start Reinventing Yourself

ItsYourCareerNote from Art: Welcome to a new Friday Career Feature here at Management Excellence.  You work hard in your job, but how much time do you spend working ON your career?

When it comes to your career, the best defense is a good offense.

The odds are fairly good that at some point during your career, you will face an unexpected interruption in your employment. The issue isn’t that it happened, it’s what you do once you’re faced with this problem that is critical to your career.

Given that our new normal is one that includes rapid obsolescence of products, technologies, companies and even entire industries, it’s common for the process of recovering from a job loss to be much more about reinvention and much less about traditional search.

5 Ideas to Help You Jump Start Your Next Career Step Before the Old One Disappears:

1. Actions Count. Make the commitment to dealing with this fuzzy, ambiguous topic of, “what do I do if my industry/firm/job disappears?” Thinking about it isn’t good enough. Action begets action. Get up off the couch, turn off the latest episode of (insert your list of favorite mind killing shows) and begin the work of designing your career forward.

2. Cover the Basics. Too busy to finish your degree twenty years ago? That’s going to haunt you now. Fix it. Need a refresh on the MBA? There are plenty of programs available to bring your skills up to speed. Check in with your alma mater or peruse the professional development options available at your Community College.

3. Shed Your Dinosaur Shell. Find someone to teach you how professionals use social media and get out there. Start a blog; learn to tweet; learn to follow and learn how to carefully and respectfully cultivate a LinkedIn network like your next job depends upon it. It might. And while you are at it, bring your technology skills up to speed. If you intend on remaining a part of the broader workforce, you are now in an era and an environment where people who assume the internet has always been there and don’t get why someone might use a phone for anything other than texting, are increasingly the norm.

4. Get Help Navigating If You Are Lost. Not knowing what to do next is a big problem for many who find themselves suddenly sitting on the sidelines and looking out at a game that has completely changed. From Career Counselors to your Alma Mater’s Career Center to Small Business Development Centers (in every county in the U.S.) to your Community College, there are resources out there that can help you define options and paths as well as evaluate the feasibility of following long dormant dreams of your own business. Ask for help. Don’t sit at home waiting for enlightenment.

5. Treat Your Career Reinvention Like a Strategic Planning Project. Assess the environment. Look at your strengths and weaknesses. Map potential opportunities and threats and focus in on the most feasible option Define a series of integrated actions (education, training, network development etc.) and steps that move you towards your best option, and set up performance measures to gauge your progress.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Consider these ideas as good precautions. It pays to be prepared. Insurance, fire extinguishers and a good “next step” plan are all priceless when you need them, and so is a good “Plan B” for your career.

–Related Reading at Management Excellence: Defining Your Professional Value Proposition

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.