Using Power in the Workplace

by Sharlyn Lauby on May 1, 2011

It probably comes as no surprise that the most popular post on HR Bartender is 7 Types of Power in the Workplace.  The topic of power is not only fascinating but incredibly challenging.  Power is one of those things that, as individuals, we aren’t always comfortable admitting we have.

Truth is…we all have power.  It’s all in recognizing what kind we have.  So we use it properly.

Bestowed forms of power are given to us.  Earned forms of power are related to who we are as an individual.

When a person abuses or misuses their power, it’s immediately recognized.  Trust and confidence in the person is damaged.  But what about the opposite?  Try to identify a person you know who uses their power well and at the appropriate times.

If we think about the 7 types, power comes to us in two ways:

Bestowed forms of power are given to us.  They’re usually based upon our position or title.  Or they may be granted to us in terms of who we power, workplace power, leadershiphave access to in the company or what actions we are able to authorize (based upon our position.)  For example, as a human resources director, I was able to authorize payroll to cut a manual check for an employee.  That was something I had the power to do based upon my title within the company.

Earned forms of power are related to who we are as an individual.  Or what we know in terms of expertise and information.  It’s less about title/position and more about what we know.  Like the recent focus group I participated in on HR and social media – it’s not about my job as a training consultant but my expertise as an HR pro and a blogger.  During those meetings I was able to have a voice (aka power) toward suggesting changes for a new community network being developed.

When faced with a situation, ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. What action would I like to take?
  2. Do I have the power to make it happen?

If the answer to both questions is yes, then it’s a good use of the power that you’ve either earned or have been given to you.  If not, then ask yourself if there’s a way to align with a person who does have the power you need to make it happen.

 

Just because we’ve all experienced the person on a power trip, doesn’t mean power has to be scary or avoided.  Using power the right way is the sign of a good management.

Image courtesy of Nancy Newell [simutis]

{ 11 comments }

John May 1, 2011 at 9:18 am

Before we exercise our ‘power’ we should all look in the mirror and ask ourselves are we responsible and qualified to use our power correctly.

Sharlyn Lauby May 2, 2011 at 9:57 am

Hi John. Thanks for the comment. I totally agree with your statement but also wonder how many people can answer the question objectively. Who would honestly say they weren’t responsible enough to use their power? And, unfortunately, that’s a big part of the problem with power.

doug_eike May 3, 2011 at 10:25 am

Balancing power in all parts of our lives is one of our biggest challenges. The most important thing is not to pass on abuses of power that are perpetrated on us. Thanks!
doug_eike recently posted..Some Questions and Answers About Writing

Amit May 3, 2011 at 11:47 am

Thanks for the Great article ,Sharlyn

Sharlyn Lauby May 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Thanks for adding to the conversation!

Kevin May 4, 2011 at 2:05 am

So power can be either good management or mismanagement, it all lies in the people who use it and the way they use it?

Affiliated Physicians May 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Not using the power you have to correctly handle a situation is almost as bad as misusing your power. With power comes responsibility. If you are the one with the power, you have to be willing to step up to the plate when the situation calls for it.

James Bennett | Success Books May 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm

It seems that talking about power seems like a negative thing, but many of us don’t realize that as employees, parents, managers, entrepreneurs, etc all have power over other people in certain circumstances. If anything, we have power granted to us as human beings to freely make choices for good or bad.

What matters most is how power is used which it seems most people agree. Sometimes, using power can produce very positive outcomes…

Great topic to discuss….
-James
James Bennett | Success Books recently posted..I’ll Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse Michael Franzese Wisdom Books

Sharlyn Lauby May 6, 2011 at 8:23 am

Thanks so much for the comments! I totally agree there’s a perception that power is a bad thing. Power can be very useful if managed the proper way.

Martin Cooney May 10, 2011 at 8:44 am

I’ve been in senior management for over 15 years.
Personally, I’ve always found the greatest power is the one of giving others the discovery they themselves have great power and the power of being great.

From a workplace relationships point of view, I’ve seen many of the people I’ve worked with understand this same ‘giving’ empowerment and use it themselves for others’ benefit. The power of reciprocity is wonderful.
Martin Cooney recently posted..Is Cheating All About Your Own Needs

anna May 21, 2012 at 4:36 am

This information has been so useful in helping me understand power and its application. Especially the discussion about the proper use and misuse of power. I would however like to ask this question
with the changing ideas of strategic thinking, what was the most appropriate way to use power before, what is now and what caused the changes?

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