This is the weekly Careers newsletter.
Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.
A big misconception about power in organizational settings is that only C-suite executives and directors wield power, when in reality, power can reside in all corners and layers of a company, says Tiziana Casciaro, a professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and co-author of Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It’s Everyone’s Business.
Prof. Casciaro cites an example of a manufacturing plant where the maintenance staff, not the plant’s foreman or management, held the reins of power over the workers. The reason? Whenever machinery broke down, it jeopardized the workers’ pay that was based on production quotas.
“If you view power as control over valued resources, then anybody who controls access to those resources holds the power and can become very important,” she says. “When you’re the only one that can give me what I want, you have really a lot of power.”
Prof. Casciaro said the maintenance crew knew their worth and were reluctant to formalize or write down the instructions on how to repair the machines.
Power, for All, which Prof. Casciaro co-authored with Julie Battilana, a professor of business administration in the organizational behaviour unit at Harvard Business School, received the Academy of Management’s 2022 George R. Terry Book Award. The annual honour is granted to the book that has made the most outstanding contribution to the global advancement of management knowledge during the past two years.
Power in leadership
A positive outcome of power is it can help people feel in control and capable when taking an action. But on the flip side, power can make some leaders assume a hubristic sense of invincibility. Empirical evidence shows people who feel powerful are less accurate in understanding the emotions of others, Prof. Casciaro says.
“Hubris can undermine a leader’s effectiveness because they become inattentive to the needs of others,” she says. “You cannot lead if you don’t understand the people you’re leading. A good leader needs the input of many people to accomplish great things.”
Why your org needs a power map
The book discusses the concept of “power mapping” and recommends organizations undertake the task of building power maps for various reasons. For starters, power maps can help organizations chart the course and plan strategically, provide insights on company culture, gauge the efficacy of leaders, and understand which resources will be valued in the future.
“A power map is the detection of who has influence and why,” Prof. Casciaro says. “It’s really about mapping of what’s valued in an environment and who controls access to it.”
Useful tactics for power mapping include observing, for example, noting who people in the department or organization go to for advice and input. During meetings, who do people usually defer to?
Creating a power map involves asking the right questions. Who’s admired? And how have things changed since someone (a manager, leader or employee) came on board?
How to build a power map
In an article in the Harvard Business School, Michael Boyles, a content marketing specialist and writer, says power mapping is crucial if an organization or its leadership want to become change makers. For starters, you should start the process by understanding what behaviours are rewarded, who gets special assignments, promotions and salary raises, and what type of specific behaviours resulted in those rewards.
The next step is to identify central individuals – people who are at the core of your network. Mr. Boyles suggests either writing full names or pseudonyms.
Then, list which of the organization’s valued resources each individual have control over or access to. How much control does each one have over the resource? Can they be obtained from elsewhere or can they only be available through this individual? What’s the nature of your relationship with the central individuals and the level of interaction you have with them?
The objective of mapping is to visualize and discover connection between central individuals, Mr. Boyles writes. He cautions against making two critical mistakes – first, omitting to identify influential individuals; and secondly, making assumptions or conflating someone’s influence.
“To ensure you don’t make those mistakes, closely observe your workplace’s social environment, its existing power dynamics and its flow of information,” Mr. Boyles writes. “Observe what people say and how they behave in meetings and regular interactions. Both verbal and nonverbal cues can greatly inform your power map.”
What I’m reading around the web
- Emotional intelligence is an essential skill that should ideally be showcased in your résumé because it’s coveted by employers and leaders. According to this BBC story, EQ represents a range of competencies that includes our ability to understand and manage our own and others’ feelings and use it to foster productive connections. The good news is that we can develop EQ all throughout our lives, experts say.
- In this CNBC story, NBA legend Shaquille O’ Neal talks about an investment principle he heard from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos that he took to heart and uses. Mr. O’Neal says, as per Mr. Bezos, one should believe in the product and ask: Will it change people’s lives?
- In this story and video in ideas.TED.com, professor David Burkus, an organizational psychologist and best-selling author, says you don’t need a title to be a leader. He says working on any team can provide opportunities to create “leadership moments.”
- Are you blowing job interviews even without realizing why? This article on the Dice site says when it comes to hiring for technical roles, companies want candidates who have not only the right technical skills, but also have a professional presence. One way to ace the interview: Don’t just describe the results you achieved and the skills you have, but highlight that you’re well-versed in the conditions and processes that affect overall success.
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