You often hear this complaint in the corridors of almost all the corporations: I am a junior manager (or a middle manager) and I have no authority to make things happen. And I have heard this also from the participants of almost all management conferences.
The crux of the problem is most managers seem to think and believe that they have no authority and so cannot make any change happen. More often than not, this is not true. However, this belief has immense potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once this happens, these managers heave a sigh of relief that they are not accountable for making things happen; and worse still, they windmill at the senior management and say they must make things happen or have failed to make things happen.
Power, like Beauty, Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder
While part of the problem may be the cultural context of a given organization, more often than not the problem is not outside the manager who feels powerless. Power or lack of it is often an internal belief finding expression as external behavior. At a fundamental level, the problem lies in what these managers perceive as power. Power is often understood in a restricted sense as positional authority to reward or sanction. In reality, effectiveness as managers is largely a mindset and actions emanating there from.
Look at any orchestra; a close observation reveals an insightful reality. The conductor does not control any member of the orchestra or plays any instrument. And therefore does not produce any great music by himself or herself, but nevertheless contributes significantly to its world-class performance. In our homes too, we have a lesson or two to learn from our dear moms. Mothers often do not have any formal authority. However, they make things happen with their sheer power of love and care; and no other source of authority can match up to this. It is the power of selfless service in every sense of the term. It is simply the willingness to make things better for the family and for her loved ones.
Asking the right question
A thing for the managers to ask for is not how much positional authority they want, but what they want as the outcome. Focusing on the desired outcome takes away the anxiety around power and authority from the mind and often clears the way for thinking with a clear mind how to make this happen. You then tend to leverage the other sources of power like knowledge and competence, reference, logic and data, and more. In the organizations today these are more lasting and preferred sources of power for making things happen rather than relying on the positional authority. Watch any successful manager high up in the hierarchy who is getting things done consistently. More often you will notice a pattern of authority that is anything but positional. He or she will walk the corridor ways, meet people, listen more than talk, crack a joke or two, share a big picture, create a dream, pass the credit, seek information, offer an apology where appropriate, look into the eyes, speak an informal language, and if you will, get things done. This is often a matter of style and choice and they know how to be effective, whether they want things done by their superiors or their juniors. Call it charisma, if you wish. It wins friends at work and outside. They know how to relate with warmth and, over the time, build a strong chemistry with anyone they have to interact with or do business with.
Get Rid of the Defenses and Facades
While power may help manipulate and get things done, you just need the interpersonal charm to get things done most of the time. Armed with this charm, you will often also notice that even people levels below you with not much authority in comparison with what you may have, get many things done. The watchwords for making things happen, therefore, are interpersonal charm, love and care, reason and logic, relationships, and most importantly being seen and experienced as someone simple and plain to deal with and without any hidden agenda. And these are not god’s gift to a chosen few, but what we as managers choose to cultivate.
I have coached managers to smile (difficult but not impossible), listen more, drop defenses, keep under check their tendencies to win an argument all the time, or want to have the last word on everything. It is very often less difficult than learning to swim or ride the bicycle, but as with cycling and swimming this becomes an unconscious competence and second nature over time. Let me hasten to clarify - I am not suggesting any recipe for getting popular, but for getting things done. Your enhanced popularity may just be incidental in the process.
When you go to shop something, you have all the power, i.e. purchasing power. The sales associate probably has just the knowledge of the products or the services. And most of the sales associates would have the requisite level of this knowledge or else they would not be there. But what clinches the deal very often is his or her ability to leverage their personal charm and willingness to help you make an informed choice, so that you feel empowered and not fooled or cheated. Getting things done in office is not any drastically different.
Increasing number of studies about power in organizations establishes and reaffirms that power, as a means of getting things done, is being replaced by interpersonal influence. And that this influence can be cultivated by one’s own actions is what makes it even more interesting.
Leading from any Chair
If you recognize what you can do with your interpersonal skills instead of nurturing the grievance that you are powerless, it will be an eye-opener; and will help you realize your potential to help a deserving team member. To quote Ben Zander, the celebrated conductor of the world famous Boston Philharmonic Orchestra: “A leader does not need any podium; he or she can be sitting quietly on the edge of any chair, listening passionately and with commitment, fully prepared to take up the baton.” One of the most popular verses of Khalil Gibran reads like this: “The weakness of the heart does not permit; otherwise which is the drop that cannot become an ocean”. Managers will do well to introspect.