Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Power Game

Despite all of the books and articles about teamwork and collegial leadership, there are times when a supervisor must exert power.

Don’t let being collegial dilute your power. Asking for advice is simply that. When you ask others for advice, you have not abdicated authority. You are simply getting another opinion. Don’t let them trick you into thinking otherwise.

If you have to confront a snake, play the perception card. If a team member is disrespectful or insubordinate, confront the person. The person will probably deny it, but the matter should not end there. (Confessions occur all the time in Perry Mason episodes but seldom in workplace confrontations.) Your response should be, “That is how I perceive your behavior and since I am your supervisor and the author of your performance appraisals, you’d better start working on changing that perception.”

Don’t let others browbeat you. The person who shouts or says abusive things should be stopped at that point and you should calmly state the ground rules. You’ll be glad to hear out the person but basic courtesy and respect must be given or else there will be no discussion.

Don’t get team-played. If confronted by a sizable group that appears to be more of a lynch mob than people who are sincerely seeking redress, note that you will be glad to meet with a representative. If they don’t pick one, tell them to do so. No representative, no meeting.

Beware of stacked decks. Watch out for rules that favor the other side. Either ignore or replace them or counter with rules that favor your side. Remember that the very act of participating in a process is a concession. You should always determine if you’d be in a more powerful position by withdrawing.

Don’t have weak allies. It’s better to have one valiant ally than 500 wimpy ones.

Cover your back. Know all possible avenues of attack and have them covered. If surprised, buy time so you can collect your thoughts.

Penalize negative behavior. If you want a matter resolved promptly, it should be clear that delay will produce a worse result for your opponent, not a better one.

Remember a major rule of negotiations: The side that cares least controls. If you find yourself caring too much about an outcome, you are indirectly giving power to your opponents. Change your attitude. And always be ready to walk away from the table.

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