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Leveraging Power

Our society is knee-deep in people who misuse power. While their aims are often selfish, as we have seen with managers at corrupt companies, their power is nonetheless substantial; they hurt people purposefully and maliciously. Such managers in those organizations use power as a weapon; it becomes their means to a selfish end. Much of their motivation derives from greed, but in some cases, abuses of power come from ignorance. They simply never cared to learn how to use power appropriately.

Power is intrinsic to leadership presence, so it is important to discover ways to use it positively. You must learn to apply it in the workplace in order to create allies, lead others, and achieve sustainable results.

Here are four things you need to know about power:

1. Find power. When you want to get things done, be it a change initiative or a special project, you need to find people who will give you the support (and funding) you need to get started. That support often, but not always, comes from people at the top; they have the power.

Identify who can help you and go after them. To persuade, you need to develop a business case. Your case should address the benefits to stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders) as well as to the bottom line. Moreover, your business case will not suffer if you mention how it will benefit those at the top, by demonstrating either their farsightedness or the improvement to the bottom line.

2. Demonstrate power. In the heyday of the Roman Empire, its disciplined legions were the manifestation of Roman power. Military prowess alone, however, did not hold the empire together. It ensured the peace so that the Roman system that fostered commerce, trade, building, and education could proliferate. The lesson is that power is more than force of might. It is the authority to make good things happen.

When you have power, use it to further the aims of the organization, not simply your own agenda. For managers, it means using power to achieve results. Marshal resources to develop a new project and bring it home on time and on budget.

3. Share power. All good managers know that power without the support of others is useless. The irony of power is that it can never be wholly centralized. Certainly in dictatorships, power emanates from the person at the top, but he is supported by legions of minions who are only too happy to carry out his whims. Why? Because they receive some kind of benefit, either personally or for their families.

Within the corporate sector, the CEO is the person in charge, but successful business leaders delegate, delegate, delegate—and with authority, too. One of the secrets to Warren Buffett’s success is his willingness to let managers manage. Berkshire Hathaway is a holding company; its portfolio of companies is largely self-managed. Buffett provides advice and counsel as well as some funding, but the running of the company is left to the senior leadership team. That’s a genuine power share.

4. Influence power. Sales professionals soon learn that often their best way to make a sale is to gain the support of the recommender, or person of influence. Winning that person to your side is often the most effective way to make a sale. This is because the decision maker will often look to the recommender and concur with her decision. For managers, influence is the chief way things get done in a large organization, particularly when implementing processes across functions. A manager in charge has no direct authority over the person he is asking to change; what he possesses is the power of his ideas as well as his powers of persuasion.

Are there limits to power? Of course.

Those who crave power will not be in a mood to share. Absolute power, as the adage goes, corrupts absolutely. Those who put themselves first—be it a despot or a bully boss—will never ever share. In the case of despots, you need to depose them; in the case of bullies, you need to boot them. Few are worthy of rehabilitation. Power for them is both a means to an end as well as the end itself. While that is reality, managers should not shy away from leveraging power nor should they shy away from shar¬ing it. Power is essential to presence and in turn vital to leadership.

Excerpted, with permission from the publisher, from 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead by John Baldoni. Copyright 2010, John Baldoni. Published by AMACOM. www.amacombooks.org