A Cup of Leadership CaffeineNote from Art: no ethics or morals were harmed in the making of this post.

Power and influence are not dirty words. Both are components of every organization’s environment and both must be carefully cultivated to succeed as a formal or informal leader.

Power and influence provide the motive power behind organizations and initiatives and the lubrication that keeps the parts and people from binding and grinding and self-destructing.

Nothing happens without the application of power and influence wielded by those that have carefully cultivated these qualities.  And while the notion of someone actively pursuing power might seem reprehensible or dirty or immoral to some, I’m not sure why.

Frequently Overheard:

“I don’t want to play the games.”

“I’m sick and tired of politics”

And the always colorful and image evoking, “He must have pictures…”

We’ve all heard those statements and perhaps nodded in agreement.  Yet the presence of humans in the working environment guarantees that there will be those that are more effective at connecting, engaging, motivating, and ultimately getting things done through others.  And these aren’t necessarily the smartest people or the hardest workers, but they are more than likely the smartest workers.

Intelligence is More than I.Q.

Those that cultivate power and influence work hard on managing themselves. They are emotionally intelligent. These power-pursuers also are innately aware of the impact that they have on others, and they draw upon well-honed skills to manage external perceptions and to adapt to changing situations.  They are socially intelligent.

Personal Branding & Building Respectful Relationships:

Those with power and influence have carefully thought through their own personal brand and value proposition, and work hard reinforcing this brand through their actions and behaviors.  Their focus is on getting work done through others and asserting their agenda, and to do that, they must forge respectful relationships, build strong social networks and guiding coalitions and they must support others more often than they ask for support.

And my informal observation on those that successfully cultivate organizational power and influence is that they are masters at managing upwards.  This is different than sucking up.  It’s understanding your boss’s agenda and priorities and helping her succeed, and it’s leveraging those priorities to grow visibility, get involved with key projects and to curry support.

Backroom Dealers and Dirty Politicians Need Not Apply:

While the bad eggs in the corporate world grab the headlines and the cool orange prison garb that’s been so executive fashionable for the past decade, the gross majority of people in organizations do not resemble those characters.

I’ve worked in and around companies with hundreds to hundreds of thousands of employees and while there have been some blog post worthy lousy leaders, they are the exception not the rule.

From top executives to truly powerful individual contributors that serve as influencers on key strategic choices and projects to those leading from the middle, there are great collectors and noble users of powers almost everywhere.

The abusers and the abusive exist and their tactics are reprehensible.  I don’t have an easy answer if you are victimized by one of those creatures, other than to indicate that if you improve your cultivation of power and influence, you will be better able to deal with or avoid the situation and person the next time.

6 Reasons Why Pursuing Power and Influence is a Good Career Move:

1. Productivity. Those with power and influence get more done.  You can print this and put it on a bumper sticker!

2. It’s honest, hard work. The pursuit of power and influence in an organization involves figuring out how to stand out from the crowd.  This is generally best accomplished by some combination of darned hard work, great ideas, building good social networks and helping your boss succeed.  Nothing wrong with those pursuits!

3, It’s about supporting your brand authenticity. The act of pursuing power is in large part a personal branding activity.  You have to decide what you stand for and you need to communicate and substantiate your value proposition through your actions.  Professionals should take responsibility for their personal branding, and the pursuit of power and influence requires that you live up to your stated value proposition.  People are generally not naïve and can smell a hollow value proposition and an inauthentic leader a few miles away.

4. You cultivate critical growth skills. Gaining power and influence requires great people skills…great social intelligence.  Part of cultivating great people skills involves understanding how you are perceived by those around you, and this means that you must be alert and open to feedback and to making the effort to improve based on the feedback.  This growing power and influence stuff is honest, hard work!

5. You create a multiplier effect. As you cultivate power, you have the ability to extend your good across the organization.  It’s easy to talk about how you wish things would work.  Those with power and influence are able to define how things truly work and extend their vision across teams and entire organizations.

6. You create demand for you. Your senior leaders want to see people with ambition, commitment and an interest in doing more.  As long as your approach to growth doesn’t involve stepping on the heads and hands of those that you are scrambling over, we really like aggressive people that are willing to help in the good fight.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The pursuit of power and influence is noble.  Given the choice between an individual self-confident enough to cultivate power and one not interested in “playing the game,” I know where I’m going every time.  The real “game” is about winning by serving customers and stakeholders and legally beating the snot out of competitors.

What’s your strategy to grow your power?

Coming Tuesday: the latest episode of the Management Excellence Book Series, featuring a podcast interview with Jocelyn Davis, co-author of Strategic Speed.  Also, in case you missed it, check out the prior episode with Bob Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss.