Abraham Lincoln once said that “if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. While power is a ubiquitous and necessary aspect of corporate life, it is the abuse of power that has vilified the very term in recent years.
All employees in an organization are abundantly aware of managerial power. After all, who is it that holds the cards when it comes to hiring, firing, decisions on salary increases, career progression, etc.? These are the power-based responsibilities that most employees associate with managers. This corporate-sanctioned power exists for a reason. But even the perception of its misuse can have damaging consequences. Potent enough to undermine not only that critical manager-employee relationship, but also the very culture a company is wishing to create.
Often overlooked are the subtler aspects connected to the use of power by managers. The strength of the manager-employee relationship is intimately tied to how the manager leverages the “softer” aspects of power. In my many years in corporate life, the managers I have truly come to respect are those who understand this very point. In the end, it comes down to only one word:
Power and Trust are not inversely related. In fact, power, used wisely, can assist in building trust. Unfortunately, the following is also true. Power used irresponsibly can, and likely will, destroy trust.
The following are the six clearest indicators that you are building a trusting relationship with your direct reports through the effective and responsible use of power:
You advocate for your people:
Employees need to know that you are willing to go the extra mile to fight for their needs. Whether this is to support their career and professional development, secure necessary resources to do their jobs effectively, or ensure that they are receiving due recognition, the commitment of the manager in this area is critical. Your direct report looks to you to leverage your position, influence and power as their manager to positively benefit their needs.
You ensure a free flow of information:
We have often heard that information is power. By ensuring transparency and a flow of information to your team members you are, in effect, sharing your power with others. This is a potent means of developing trust based on honesty. You may not always have the best or complete information to communicate, but your team will appreciate your efforts. Of course, as a manager, your hands may be tied as to what can be communicated and when. But once you have the trust of your team that you will share what is possible, they will fully understand and respect these limitations.
You do not over-politicize:
An effective manager and leader is savvy enough to negotiate the “halls of power” within an organization. In fact, as you strive to support your team, this ability is key. But when a manager’s “politicking” takes the focus off the individual team member and becomes clearly personally-motivated, it can have a debilitating impact on one’s ability to establish and maintain trust.
You do not play favourites:
This should be a no-brainer, but I include it here anyway. Playing favourites is a clear abuse of managerial power. In effect, it clearly shouts to all that “I know I have the power and I will use it as I see fit”. Suffice to say, this is a sure way to undermine trust within the team.
You know that your success and that of your team are intimately connected:
If you truly believe this point, it is likely that it is coming through loud and clear in your interactions with your individual team members. In turn, it is assisting you in developing a trusting team culture. Individuals want nothing more than to know that they're valued. Showing them that you recognize them as essential contributors to overall success – your own included – strongly reinforces your recognition of their value. It may appear that in doing this you are somehow giving up your power as manager. In fact, the reverse is actually true. This will be respected and your team members’ commitment to you as their leader will be strengthened as well.
You show your humanity:
Be who you are. Live your values. While strong leaders are effective in keeping a grip on their emotions, it is important to always remember that you are, after all, human. Allowing the real you to shine through only adds to the genuineness of the relationship you are striving to create.
As a manager, you wield power intrinsic to your role. How you leverage it is also in your hands. This decision is critical in determining your ultimate success as a leader and the quality of your relationship with those employees reporting to you.
Glenn is a Leadership, Executive and Team coach based in Vancouver, Canada.