Leaders & Power

Power is something which gives us the ability to influence or direct other people. It is an invisible but powerful force in our lives and our organizations. I have worked for supervisors who use their power to produce fear and for others who wield it in ways that makes me want to perform my best. We can learn a lot about others based on how they use (or don’t use) power.

There are two types of power that occur as we interact with others.

Positional Power is the use of your authority over someone to get something done. This type of power is something you exert over others. Positional power is given to a person as a result of their position (your boss at work can use his position to make you do things), the ability to give out rewards (a coach who awards hard working players with more playing time) or it can also be applied in a coercive way (Kim Jong-un, the despotic ruler of North Korea uses coercive power to ensure follows do as he says).  As an example, when parents tell our children ‘because I said so’ they are using our positional power to make something happen (or stop something from occurring!). A simple way to visualize positional power is with the image of you pointing your finger at another person – this simple gesture indicates your positional power and authority over another person.

Personal Power is when your authority is given to you by others. It is typically given because of the expertise or competence that a person possesses (we typically extend this trust to our medical doctor) or by our personal identification or liking of a person (few people personally knew Nelson Mandela but he was liked by almost everyone). Personal power is bestowed upon us by others and gives us the ability to accomplish something because others allow us to do so. Instead of us pointing a finger at others, the image for this style of power has others pointing a finger at us and asking for our involvement or expertise. When your child texts you and asks you for advice they are bestowing personal power as they are indicating that they respect and trust your judgement.

Effective use of positional and personal power is situational and we must learn when to use each one. At times, it is appropriate for parents to request their children to do something ‘because they said so’ (positional). In contrast, Pope Francis appears to believe that he can accomplish the goals of the Catholic Church by allowing others to give him power (personal).

There are also times when we can inappropriately use power. Can you recall a social conversation with someone who keeps trying to impress others by telling all about their accomplishments? These people are inappropriately trying to remind you that they deserve positional power (and it usually backfires). As well, an over-reliance of personal power will not be effective when you are in situations when no one knows you. Personal power is something which is earned over time.

Effective leaders understand the difference between positional and personal power. Furthermore, they know when to use each of them in order to accomplish their goals. I encourage you to evaluate your use of power. Which of these styles do you use more often? Which style needs improvement? Which do you tend to use inappropriately?

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com


Why Getting Fired is a Good Thing!

I was recently asked to provide a reference for someone. This individual is great at what they do and I provided many positive remarks. However, the person who called me was a good interviewer and he asked some probing questions about the candidate. As I responded to one of the questions, I was surprised to hear myself say, “She’s great but would become an amazing leader if she would be fired”.

While my response may sound mean-spirited, I can assure you that it was not. About 9 years ago I was fired (or released if you prefer the comfort of a euphemism) so my comment was rooted in personal experience. I learned that the person I was speaking to had also been fired and he knew exactly what I meant. My comment meant that being fired can teach you things that no other experience can. In many ways, being fired is something that I wish on no one. Conversely, I made the above comment because I have learned firsthand that being fired has made me a better person.

To be clear, I’m not talking about being fired because of embezzlement or some other criminal activity. Rather, I am referring to the kind of firing that makes you sit up straight as your dreams and ambitions crash around your ankles. The kind of firing that causes deep soul-searching and sleepless nights. The kind of firing that makes you reconsider numerous assumptions about life, work and your career that no longer work. I’m talking about the kind of firing that shapes and refines you like a fire refines gold.

Here are three lessons that a good firing can teach us:

  1. You are not indispensable: Humility is easy to speak about and difficult to practice. At some point, most of us get caught up in the lie that we are indispensable. We are not. Read that three-word sentence again – it’s important. I have learned that I gravitate to genuinely humble people. In fact, I want to be that kind of person. Being fired was a deep notch in the growth of my tree of humility.
  2. Adversity reveals character: When we shine a bright light on object it often reveals the flaws. Firing is a bright light. A really bright light! Some people respond to this light by trying to dim it and hide their imperfections. Others choose to humbly stand under the light, inspect their flaws and work to improve them. The adversity of a good firing will reveal your character. Your response (hiding or inspecting) will determine if it also develops your character.
  3. Why do you do what you do? We sometimes use the metaphors of ‘climbing the ladder’, ‘hopping back on the hamster wheel’ or ‘the road to success’ to explain our work. However, sometimes we get stuck doing what we do because it’s what we do. A good firing allows you to step back and re-examine why. I have spent large portions of the last two weeks with four different toddlers. All of them constantly use the word why. As parents, we speak about ‘growing out of this phase’. I wonder if we have it wrong. Why may be the most important question we can ask. If so, it’s a phase we should never grow out of!

Firing does not need to occur in the difficult way that I experienced. I have met three people in the last month who have fired, or are considering firing themselves! This courageous act often stems from a realization of one of the following things: you need change, you are under-performing, your company has changed, you are ready for new challenges or that you have successfully replaced yourself and need to move on.

I no longer mind telling people I was fired because I have learned to be thankful for it. Without doubt, I am a better person because of it. If you get fired, hang on!  If you are thinking of firing yourself, keep asking why. A good firing can teach you a lot of things.

Note: In a recent blog I spoke about how Patrick Pichette fired himself from Google. You can access this content here.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

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Why We Hate Work: Issues of Engagement

What percentage of Americans feel engaged when they are at work? 40%? 50% 65%?

Recent research reveals that only 30% say that their work engages them (Gallup, 2013). The global version of this research reveals that only 13% of people around the world answer ‘yes’ to this question. This issue is being called an organizational crisis and reveals both tremendous problems and opportunities in our workplaces.

So how can you personally ensure that you are increasing your level of engagement? Here are four ideas:

  1. Know thyself: Socrates is given credit for this simple advice. The better we know ourselves, the better we understand what we are good at and what we are not good at. This knowledge will guide you into work which you find engaging.
  2. Know thy organization: Tim recently told me about the biggest mistake he made. A headhunter promised to double his salary if he took a job they had been enticing him with for months. While the money was good, the organizational culture was not a good fit for him. He took the offer and as a result, discovered that he also gave up a great work-life balance, strong relationships with colleagues and a salary that was ‘enough’. The ability to assess what you have at your current organization as well as the realities of new organizations is critical. Failure to do this simply leads to a life of ‘the grass is always greener…’.
  3. Experiment: Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing and expecting different results. If you are not engaged, try something new. This doesn’t mean that you need to quit and find a new job. If you love leading but don’t have people who report to you can coach little league. Try a new hobby. Take a class. Look for a different locale to meet new people (and ideas!). I did not realize how much I enjoyed writing until I began blogging! Don’t complain – experiment!
  4. Be realistic: Work does not need to engage you 100% of the time. There are many people who expect work to make up for deficiencies of their own making. Work cannot make up for a lack of engagement in your marriage, with your children or in your community.

In addition to what we need to do individually, the engagement problem also requires employers and managers to act. A study by the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review revealed that employee engagement increases as their workplace address four core needs:

  • Physically – opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work,
  • Emotionally – feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions,
  • Mentally – opportunity to focus on their most important tasks and to define when and where they get their work done, and
  • Spiritually – doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work (NY Times).

The things noted above are not revolutionary. We know most, if not all of the things on this list. However, there is a gap between what we know and what we do. Until we learn to practice these things, we have to oversee a workforce of many people who would rather not be there. To me, this is indeed a crisis, a crisis in need of bold and fresh leadership.

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On President’s Day: Should President’s Play?

Yesterday Air Force One arrived in our city. President Obama is spending President’s Day weekend in Palm Springs enjoying some down time. In fact, his recurring visits to Palm Springs have earned it the title of Camp David West.

Shortly after his arrival, local media snapped a photo of the President on a local golf course and posted the picture on Facebook. Since he usually fits in a round of golf while here, this is not surprising. However, the comments on Facebook (I know, it’s never a good idea to read these!), revealed that many citizens are very critical of our leader taking some down time.

Regardless of your opinion about this specific situation, Obama’s golf game reminds us of decisions that we each must make regarding our priorities. Socrates reminded us that good leaders must ‘know thyself’. How well do you know yourself in each of these three areas related to your priorities?

  1. Do you ‘live to work’ or ‘work to live’? While I was consulting in the Baltic region a local employee told me that ‘we work to live’ so don’t expect our workdays to extend much beyond 5:00. This principle held true during my time there and I found myself enjoying unexpected free time. Ironically, many of these evening were spent over long dinners with my contacts and I found that this ‘down-time’ helped facilitate many of our consult goals in unconventional and effective ways. Do you ‘live to work’ or ‘work to live’?
  2. Does your work define you? A local businessman recently noted that North American’s tend to look to work to meet most of their need for life satisfaction. This helps explain why it is so difficult for many of us to leave work at the office. You have a very important choice in what you allow to define you. Can you articulate what this is?
  3. How do you recharge? No matter who you are, you need time to recharge. There is no magic formula and you have to find what works for you. It can range from walks to stretches to lunchtime workouts to power naps. I believe that recharging seldom occurs without intentionality. How do you plan to recharge?

While it is important to know yourself, you must also know your team.  Chris may actually be more productive at work if you let her leave at 4:00 to coach the little league team. Conversely, you have team members who thrive on working longer hours and will enjoy a challenging project.

You also need to intentionally manage these differences within your team so conflict does not erupt. A high-ranking bank employee recently confided that, “it’s hard to balance my work and personal life because I am surrounded by staff who are willing to work far more hours than I am able to in order to get ahead”. This individual is highly competent and ability is not the issue. Rather, differences of priority between himself and his team are causing angst. This reveals that his organization is not clearly communicating work expectations.

For me, golf clears my head. It gives me time to think and recharge. I suspect our President is the same and trust that his weekend provides him a chance to re-energize. After all, he has a work week ahead of him that few of us will ever have to worry about.

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Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman