I have always been fascinated by how powerful people use their authority. Many are famous for abusing it to control everything and everyone around them, substituting their personal goals for the organization's. Others don't seem to know they have power and flounder about destructively. Still others combine power, responsibility and charisma to become truly effective leaders. It's a fruitful topic to explore and obviously a complex one. I have strong views about it because I believe that those in authority have an obligation to use what power or authority they have over other people's lives judiciously. Too often this is a rare occurrence these days.
People are given power for a reason-to make their organizations perform well and meet the goals established for them. Bullying people or threatening them is not a good use of power; in fact, it ensures failure. Nor is micromanaging a guarantee that all will go smoothly. Rather it's the refuge of the insecure. If you have hired the right people you shouldn't need to double-check every action they take. Your job is to give them a goal and the authority to achieve it, evaluating them on how well they do without interfering at every step.
I have learned from talking to many executives that most people have never really been trained in how to lead. Maybe they've read a management book or two, but they haven't spent time on the practical aspects of power. The result is that people in power positions often send a lot of mixed messages to those who work for them. Morale suffers and good people leave.
These themes are explored in an interesting little book-Power: Its Use and Abuse, by Terence Moore, president of MidMichigan Regional Health System. The book is pocket-sized and an easy read. It's not written as an academic treatise like so many business school tomes. Many such books aren't written by people with real-world experience as leaders, while others aren't really written by the person on the cover. Moore's is both, and I enjoyed reading his down-to-earth prose.
Moore quotes Richard Marcinko, former leader of an elite Navy SEAL team and a highly decorated naval officer. Marcinko decries the pompous nature of many of today's managers: "We've now got a managerial class that thinks the world owes them a Mercedes, and a working class that thinks the world owes them a pickup truck. Our managerial class now leads from `on high' and doesn't even want to hear about the problems of its workers. The current crop of managers thinks that `toughness' just means downsizing, and simply insisting that the peons who survive layoffs do all the work that needs to be done. Most of today's managers are so self-involved and so self-congratulatory that they no longer even see their workers as individuals. To them, the workers are interchangeable parts in the vast bureaucracy of production. And how do workers respond to this attitude? They respond with contempt, of course. When your manager sees you as a `thing,' you see him as an (expletive deleted). He doesn't care about your problems, so you don't care about his."
Moore describes what he calls "de-powering people" as opposed to empowering people. "The abuse of legitimate power includes the withholding and concealing of information, undermining the follower's views and shading the truth to promote one's own point of view. De-powering people over-instruct and under-instruct, fail to delegate authority and insist on being in on all decision-making as well as denying staff participation in the decision-making process. Essentially, de-powering people motivate by criticism, fear, intimidation, menial tasks and constant checks on others' work."
Moore also discusses the opposite situation, those who use their power professionally and responsibly. While amateur leaders make things look complicated and tedious, true professionals make things look almost easy by being positive and adroit when they work with others. These true "power professionals," in Moore's view, possess the following observable traits:
* They are very gracious.
* They don't dwell on trivia.
* They don't waste anyone's time, including their own.
* They exude confidence.
* They have a wide range of interests.
* They work harder than their peers at doing the right things rather than doing things right.
* They are willing to leave their comfort zones, take risks and learn to overcome failure.
* They know how to handle themselves at meetings.
* They fit the amount and type of power to the occasion or situation.
* They return messages.
* They are able to focus on the task at hand but can also have other interests outside their work such as community service, sports activities or even coaching a kids team.
Moore's book is a common-sense guide not only for top executives but also for those who hire them. Power in the wrong hands can be absolutely disastrous to an organization and the people who work there. It should not be casually given to those whose only ambition is to gain an edge by any means possible. Nobody in a power position should use that tactic without the full recognition that it must be treated with the utmost regard and respect. Moore's book discusses the subject in a most mature manner and is a must-read for anyone in power.
Treat others with respect,