Overcoming our barriers to power
Our Difficult Conversations newsletter really struck a chord. So I want to build on this by addressing the underlying dynamic, which is power. How can I be powerful? How can I have impact? These are questions that dog us from the cradle to the grave, with a good deal of family and organisational life in between. They can evoke immensely strong feelings, and especially anxiety and anger when we feel threatened and our power base is eroded or even appears to be.
Why does it matter to leaders? Because unless we can effectively harness our own sense of power, people won’t follow us. And if we can’t create a team environment with enough order, respect and sense of safety, then people will be so caught up in protecting themselves, they won’t be exercising their power to build the business; instead they will be focussed on personal survival.
As an executive coach, most of the power challenges I witness are at a more subtle level, leaders whose way of getting things done are no longer so well matched to their new challenge or a different sort of colleague. This happens most frequently when differing power styles jar and judder against each other. Our ART of Performance diagnostic illustrates it well as I will show with the following example:
When Too Cosy meets the Bulldozer
These are mirror images with both individuals lacking what the other has and overuses. Too Cosy attempts to get what he wants through close relationships, but may not be assertive enough nor plan enough ahead to really influence. This is red rag to a Bull(Dozer) who wants action and needs to be met with strength and clarity of direction. The outcome is likely to be irritation and frustration for the Bulldozer (BD), whilst Too Cosy (TC) feels fearful and somewhat intimidated.
With awareness of their own patterns either can make a difference to this dynamic without the other’s help. TC can prepare better for the meeting, with clear goals and understanding of BD’s agenda to make sure the tasks are more likely to be achieved. Even without BD’s conscious decision to change, this will likely evoke a better quality conversation and clearer outcomes. TC is more likely to feel heard and valued. BD will get more done.
Alternatively, BD can actively enquire about what TC wants and improve her listening for TC’s ideas. The team is more likely to be aligned with better morale and less disruption, whether or not she includes the ideas in the next step forward.
The principles are the same – in relation to power and getting things done, if I change my behaviour, I can change the dynamic, and thus increase my power and impact.
Which bit of the above example do you relate to? Or is there another dance that you get involved in with your tricky relationships?