Bernie Anderson
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The Paradox: 4 Practices For Giving Power and Gaining Influence

Yesterday was satire. Today is not.

In all seriousness, great leadership always magnifies self-determination in others.

But this is easier said than done. Here's why:

Power is a paradox.

The more we try to hold on to power, the more it either slips through our fingers or destroys us and everyone else around us. This brings about a toxic and unstable environment.

But, power actually increases and brings about health and stability when we give it away. If you want to keep influence, you must give away power.

Weird, right?

But it is a Jesus thing. It's also been proven through sociological science. In the end, Machiavellians destroy themselves in their attempt to save their own souls. You love your life you lose it.

There are some habits we can put in place that will help us counter our natural instinct to hold on to power.

Be free with information

Information is power. It's true. So give it away. Cross-train. Freely and openly interact, speak, and converse with your team and your colleagues. It is better to over-communicate than to under-inform. When people have information they feel better about their work and have a sense of trust. People do better work in an open environment. Don't withhold the information people need to do outstanding work.

Give away actual decision-making power

Don't be stingy here. This isn't about allowing people to choose their own office supplies. Bring people into the decision making process for the big things. Get input. Ask opinions. People feel unimportant and like mere cogs when decisions are made and handed down to them like a king's edict. Group brainstorming sessions are a great way to elicit input and involve the whole.

As a part of this, give people autonomy in their work. Let them make the decisions needed to best do their jobs. Push as much decision making to the team as possible. This has to be within reason and context - but the more autonomy people experience, the better we tend to take on responsibility and greater initiative in our work.

And, of course, let people decide which pen they want to use.

Make a practice of public affirmation (for everyone)

It feels like touchy-feely voodoo to some of the more driven personality types. But sometimes in an organization there is a "just do your job" sentiment - and this can make people feel like unappreciated cogs.

Often the public affirmation piece plays out a little differently.

The leader affirms her favorite few, leaving the rest of the team feeling like mere minions. Make a point to publicly affirm and thank everyone you lead. Try keeping a simple "affirmation spreadsheet" just to make sure no one was forgotten. At least once per week make a point to thank and/or affirm everyone on the team in a public setting. This builds morale that is tangible.

Have regular, private, honest conversations

Sometimes there are issues. I get that. Affirmation doesn't mean denial of those issues. Performance problems, character issues, and personality conflicts happen. They inevitably happen. Those issues should not be ignored.

Too often, leaders do one of two things.

  • They call out problems in public. Thus using humiliation and shame to change behavior. Behavior may change - but not in a healthy way. Trust is eroded and people are on edge about their own performance.
  • They just let it go - until it gets too much. Then things explode. This also erodes trust and makes people feel incredibly insecure about their own position. Problems should not be swept under the metaphorical rug like so much dirt. It will all come out eventually.

Regular, private, honest conversations with team members as a regular practice solves this. Issues stay on the table while building trust.

If influence is important, trust is paramount.

Influence always increases when we give the power away.