What comes to your mind when you think about using your power? For me, power almost feels like a bad word. It's a topic we don't talk about much in the workplace. In fact, I've spoken to quite a significant number of managers who are uncomfortable with the idea that they have positional power over their team. We like to think that we’re all in it together, but the reality is you are the boss, and that holds power.
So, I've invited Catherine Bell, a Professional Certified Coach, facilitator, and nonprofit consultant, to help us be more thoughtful about how we use and talk about our power and empowering others.
What is Power?
Power is the capacity to make others act a certain way. It's often used interchangeably with influence and authority. This concept gets thrown around a lot, yet not everyone is comfortable discussing it. That may be because, more often than not, using your power is labeled as manipulative and dirty. However, according to Catherine, power is neither good nor bad; it’s just always present whether we acknowledge it or not.
The reality is that power is at play in workplaces, and it comes in many different forms. If you continue to pretend that it doesn't exist and that you and your team have equal voices and the same playing fields, it's actually doing you and your team more harm than good.
Types of Power You Should Know
Understanding power and the sources of power allows us to be more comfortable discussing it with our team members, colleagues, and even ourselves. So where does power come from?
Power comes in different shapes and sizes. Here are just some of the types of power that Catherine mentioned during our conversation.
First, we have the positional power that comes from having a rank, title, or hierarchy in an organization. You acquire this power based on the position you hold, like you being a manager to your team.
There's also relational power. This type of power comes from having an extensive network or if you know someone who holds power. In these cases, you are able to reach into your network to get the ear of the right person.
Another type of power is expertise power. It's given to an individual in recognition of a particularly valued characteristic, competency, skill, or expertise. This quality gives you credibility; hence, people trust and listen to you.
There's also personal power. It's that power that comes from within you. There's something that happens when you speak with confidence and make your presence known. People receive your and your message differently, and that’s powerful.
And there's also unearned power granted to people in the dominant groups, whether they want those privileges or not, regardless of their intent. An example of this is being a white person or an English-speaking person in America.
How to Empower Your Team
Now that you know where power comes from, how do you expand your own power while helping your team members grow theirs so you can do great things together?
Catherine highly recommends starting by assigning responsibilities instead of tasks. Delegating tasks is more like telling your team members exactly what to do. Delegating responsibilities is assigning a desired outcome and allowing that person to decide on the strategy and steps to achieve the goal(s).
When you give a person the space to figure things out for themselves, you’re providing a real-life lesson that they can exercise some of their own power. It’s then up to you to act and react appropriately during check-ins. This gives them the confidence to do it all over again.
However, you also have to be clear about who holds what power when delegating responsibilities. Let your team members know the boundaries, such as whether you have veto power on decisions or if there is a budget they need to stay within. This way, they can fully step into their power or share that power with you without friction.
Be extra appreciative
Another way of empowering your team is by acknowledging their ideas and dissenting opinions, even if you disagree. As Catherine said, being able to dissent or offer out-of-the-box ideas is a marker of highly functioning teams. But saying to your team that all ideas are welcome isn't enough.
What Catherine suggests is to demonstrate that it's not only safe to do those things but especially valued. For example, pull a team member aside after a brainstorming session and thank them for sharing their ideas even if they weren’t the ones ultimately selected. Catherine also suggests acknowledging the risk folks are taking by disagreeing. Simply naming that you know that it’s hard for them can help ease their concerns.
Power is at play every day in the workplace. Each of us holds different types of power that can be used to collectively reach our goals. But it's up to us, as managers, to accept our own power first so we can encourage our team members to truly step into their power.
Listen to my entire conversation with Catherine HERE for an in-depth discussion about power and power dynamics.
Connect with Catherine:
- Follow Catherine on LinkedIn here
- Visit her website for more information here
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