Power within an organization primarily comes from two factors: personal attributes and the person’s formal position – who you are versus where you are. (Note: this is not about organizations with strong chains-of-authority and communication such as the military or police which is based on rank. Although other non-military organizations have a hierarchy of authority, they are not as rigidly enforced as in the military.)
There are four specific characteristics we must discuss within the scope of who you are:
1. Your expertise – specialized work related knowledge is a great advantage because it erases boundaries of background, formal education, or who you know. In other words, if you are an expert in doing the work of the organization, you have some personal power based on your expert knowledge and everyone recognizes it.
The problem associated with this characteristic is when higher-ranking people are brought in from outside, they may have to rely on lower ranking people who have more work knowledge. This can give the subordinate an influence (probably temporary) within the organization that would seem disproportionate to their position which is typically low profile and nearly “invisible.”
The danger for the staff person is soon the new boss will get up to speed on the new position and will have a better perspective of what is going on around him/her. At that point, he/she will be able to review the actions of the subordinate and judge whether they acted in the new boss’ best interests or not.
2. Your personal attraction – desirable characteristics seen in you by those around you. These include charisma, agreeable behavior, and physical characteristics
Charisma – defined as ” A rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm. Personal magnetism or charm: a television news program famed for the charisma of its anchors.”*
Although that definition may make it seem that this trait is more of a gift from God than something an individual can influence, research indicates there are some intentional behaviors that can lead to a “charismatic perception” by others:
- Express a vision for the organization that is inspiring to others
- Incur personal sacrifice and even risk while pursuing that vision
- Recommend or support the use of non-traditional methods to achieve goals
- Have a seemingly uncanny feel for what is possible and be very aware of timing in relation to the important issues within that vision
- Most important of all – demonstrate sensitivity to members’ needs and concerns.
Agreeable behavior – the characteristics necessary to develop and sustain friendships that would include as a minimum:
- Support an open, honest, and loyal relationship
- Be perceived as emotionally accessible – a good listener
- Provide unconditional and positive regard and acceptance. (“I may not approve of what you did but I am still your friend.”)
- Endure some sacrifices if the relationship requires them
- Be genuinely sympathetic or empathetic as the situation demands
Physical characteristics – Obviously, someone cannot do a lot about their innate physical characteristics but they can do something about their dress and grooming.Tabloids in the grocery store checkout line frequently run pictures of Hollywood stars with and without their makeup. Many times, the contrast is very striking.
Remember the saying that “you only get one chance to make a good first impression” and the fact that, whether justified or not, many people make snap judgments of others based on their appearance. Make sure you give yourself every advantage that you can from a physical appearance standpoint.
What can you do to improve your personal attraction in these three areas?
- Charisma – how can you become more charismatic?
- Agreeable behavior – how can you demonstrate more agreeable behavior?
- What can you do to change your personal characteristics to conform more to the culture without losing your individuality?
3. The amount of effort you put into your work. The more that you are seen as dependable, ready to “go the extra mile”, or to stay late to help with unexpected work tells people that you are an above average person; i.e., the “team player” that every group needs for success.
A high degree of personal effort is valued in organizations because it gives the perception the individual is reliable, persistent, and can be counted on to “go the extra mile” – (however one defines that nebulous phrase.) This trait is increasingly important in a business climate where flexibility of schedule amidst the rapidly changing environment is critical.
Unfortunately, this trait can also be a double-edged sword to the practitioner if this willingness to do “whatever it takes” is perceived by some as the departmental doormat: the person who does all the jobs no one else wants or will do and doesn’t have the strength to stand up for themselves and say no.
In this case, we recommend demonstrating a willingness to exert the extra effort but also be strong enough to ask for some trade-offs. “If I work late tonight to help you, can I leave early tomorrow to watch my child’s Little League baseball game?”
4. “Conformity” is acting in alignment with the organization’s norms and values. The more you act the “way we expect” here in our company, the more we will accept you into our culture. The deeper you become immersed in our culture means the more influence (power) you are likely to have with us.
The more you attempt to conform or “fit in” with an organization means the more influence you are capable of gathering. This is much more than just following the dress code and the policies you received during the orientation process, it means that you take time to understand the culture.
Are there organizational stories of legendary efforts (“Ray stayed on the job for 72 hours during that hurricane 3 years ago”) or decisions made that emphasize the company values (“Even though we could have doubled our market share, we would have had to compromise quality”) that help define the culture?
If the company calls itself, “the company to own, the place to work, the neighbor to have”, what does that mean to you as a new employee? What does it tell you about the company’s values? How can understanding that phrase increase your ability to conform and gain influence as a strong supporter of the company’s vision of itself?
Suppose your employer were an insurance company and the founders decided that for anyone to be promoted above a certain level anywhere within the company, they had to meet some industry requirements for professional certification.
“But I’m in HR and don’t deal with customers! Why should I have to have that certification?” you may wonder. The answer would be that the founders wanted to make sure that every employee above a certain pay level shared the same understanding about the industry and the need for customer service. This means they would be more focused on the company overall instead of their functional department within it. In the founders’ minds, it is a way to insure the corporate culture endures.
If you were to protest loudly that it doesn’t make sense in today’s world regardless of what the founders thought fifty years ago, you could seriously threaten your credibility and subsequent influence within the organization. This is not to say that speaking up should be discouraged but rather an individual may be expected to have to “pay their dues” before they can speak with any legitimacy within the culture
Focus on those four sources of organizational power for 12 months consistently and you will be pleasantly surprised in your career potential a year from now!
*The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition