Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Politics

A couple weeks ago I wrote about power. Since then I have really been thinking about my sources of power and how I help or hinder the use of my power at work. There is a secondary aspect of power that needs to be considered; do not assume just because you are brilliant or nice people will do what you want.

"Politics" is an ugly word but a real one. You can use "wisdom" as a better substitute, but wisdom will tell you to pay attention to politics. Politics is the process of influencing group decisions. Power is the muscle that politics applies. When I want to exercise power at work I must consider not only what I am doing but what everyone else is doing. Everyone wants to have power but if we always exercise against each other we do not grow a healthy environment.

The other day a co-worker and I needed to come up with a schedule for our teams. He and I are team leads and he is pretty smart, so I knew whatever he came up with would be good and fair. Instead of exercising my power to direct my team activities I let my co-worker do the schedule. I asked my team to make sure he had the information he needed and to talk to my co-worker to get their parts of the schedule right. My co-worker increased his power by doing the schedule and I increased mine by supporting his efforts. My action was the right thing to do and also a good political move. My co-worker knows I recognize and support his power and my management knows that I will work with both teams to get the right things done.

You might think that putting my political plans in public is an unwise choice. It gives others an advantage over me. That is true, in one sense. However, my goal is to build people and teams, not tear them down. So while I act politically there is no embarrassing secret to what I am trying to do. The more people understand what my political goals are the better off we are. I think.

How about you? Have you given thoughts to your power sources? Have you looked at what your political goals are and how you can better reach them?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Power

Let me save you $50,000 or so and share what I learned in grad school. I came away with a diploma and exactly four worthwhile things.

Power is the ability to influence things. Often times the word "power" is used in a bad sense. Generally, if you talk bad about a politician exercising power you are just being truthful. However, you can use power for your own good. In fact, if you are not exercising your power you will pay the price.

If you can influence who gets what shift, then you have used power. Or who stays late Friday afternoon. Or who is team captain. More to the point for working people is getting your great ideas accepted and integrated into your work so things go better. That's power.

If you are the boss, or the one who can punish, or the one with the money, you have those forms of power. However, the rest of us have access to two other forms of power. The first is called "referent"; really, who you are. Do you have such a positive reputation at work that people will do what you ask just because it's you? This is an aspect of power strongly in line with informal leadership. You can build your ability to get things done by leading people to where they want to go. It makes them happy, it makes you happy, and life is good.

The other sort of power non-managers have is "knowledge" power. That is, you know stuff other people do not. This is a tricky power though, as any IT person will tell you. In the IT world it is common to know a heck of a lot more about computers than anyone else in the company. However, no one really cares any more. Geeks lost their power when they thought knowledge was all they needed. IT people have so isolated themselves from the business of the company that they are viewed as a cost center and not really part of the business team. Manpower levels and budgets are showing the problem with that image.

While it is cool to know stuff other people do not, remember to not make that your only source of power. Figure out people and how to support them being successful in a way that lets you be successful too. If you are a geek, learn how to use all those CPU cycles to make things easier for Sales and Marketing.

What sources of power do you have, and how are you using them?