6 Bases of Power – Knowledge

knowledge3When the definition of power includes the “ability to exert influence” there is probably no basis greater than the subject of today’s post. People love advice form perceived authorizes. Take, for example, Ann Landers.

Ann Landers is a pen name invented by Chicago Times columnist Ruth Crowley in 1943 and taken over by Eppie Lederer in 1955. For 56 years, the Ask Ann Landers syndicated advice column was a regular feature in many newspapers across North America.  A few months after Lederer took over the column, her twin sister, Pauline Phillips, started her own column calling it Dear Abby. Through the years millions of readers have read thousands of columns.

The add the many other advice givers in print and broadcast media, throw in celebrities endorsements of products and political candidates, and add it to an educational system that credentials experts and the sum is a civilization intent on yielding authority to knowledge givers.

Indeed, being in the know adds depth, credibility, and authority to your place of power. Nothing builds confidence like being in the know, like being proven to be correct.

In a moment of shameless self-promotion, let me refer to my book the “3 Essential Skills of Effective Leaders” wherein this point is skill number one. An effective leader understands what’s going on by virtue of his/her experience, training, insight, and knowledge. They then know what to do next, know why it is important to take that action next, and knows how to make it happen.

Knowledge has such power, exerts such influence because followers seek out these four things:

Solutions to problems. People look to us to resolve issues. The fastest way to move away from leadership is to manifest ignorance. A few days ago we watched the taut thriller U-571. Without giving away the plot, there is one scene where the exec was faced with a tough choice and confessed publicly that he did not know what to do. Later, in private, the chief took him to task for that, saying that the leader must never admit he does not know what to do. Once your people believe that you do not know, your ability to influence them and consequently your power, greatly diminishes. HINT: Even if you don’t know, find out, figure out, work it out. Never, I mean never even hint that you are in the dark.

Answers to questions. This is why Ann  Landers, Dear Abby, Miss Manners, and Dr. Phil do so well. Life gets complicated. We face dilemmas. We have questions. We look to, and ascribe authority to, people who have answers. Answer men and women explain why, what, and how…and consequently we lend them great authority. A month or so ago I noticed that my left eye was not focusing properly and that when I looked at a straight line there was a small dip in the line about a third of the way from the left. This happened with any and all straight lines. I figured my eyeglass prescription was out of date and I needed new glasses, this was accelerated when I stepped on them and broke them.

So I made an appointment and went for an eye exam. When he finished the doctor told me I needed to see a retina specialist because there appeared to be a blister on the retina of my left eye. I left there and made an appointment. Before the appointment I googled my condition and found a medical site that told me that a blister like bubble will sometimes form on the retina, that they do not know why, and there is no cure, that it usually goes away in 4 to 6 months.

When I returned from the retina specialist I relayed to my wife what the doctor said, that a blister like bubble will sometimes form on the retina, that they do not know why, and there is no cure, that it usually goes away in 4 to 6 months. It was precisely what I had learned for free on the internet but that doctor’s charge of $100+ now brought assurance that the answer was the answer. See there, having the answer contains value, in this case $100 worth.

Information to fill a void. Consultants make their living because of this. We know what piece or pieces are missing and what to do about it. You might have heard the story of the consultant hired to find out why a particular manufacturing process was not working. He looked around the plant, walked over to a particular pipe, pointed to a certain spot, and smacked it right there with a heavy hammer.”

They did so and it started working. When he sent his bill for $10,000 the company objected to the charge saying that was a lot of money to hit a pipe with a hammer. He resubmitted an itemized bill that read:

Hitting a pipe with a hammer = $1.00

Knowing just where to hit it = $9,999.00

Directions when they can’t find the way. When I think of leadership, this is the image that first comes to my mind. Leadership paints an image to me of movement toward a destination. Not talking about it, not planning for it, but moving towards it. This is also why I discount the idea that one can lead from behind. One can manipulate from behind but one cannot lead.

Life coaches do so well at this these days because the advice and assurance offered by someone whose opinion we respect holds tremendous value. I was counseling a young couple who had started a business. Their business was about two years old and they wanted to know if things were going as well as it should. After reviewing their accounts and plan it became very obvious that they were indeed on the right track. They remarked that they just needed someone of experience to tell them things were ok.

But I counsel many others who are not doing so well. They are just starting out and cannot see the way. Leaders have tremendous opportunity here to show people the way.

Of the bases of power I have reviewed so far – official, transactional, and coercive, knowledge is by far the most prevalent and most effective. Education and experience packaged together yield powerful leadership.

Check out the video:

6 Bases of Power – Coercive

fistThere was a time when this type of power was common. It is the first resort of bullies, manipulators, and thugs. It is the last resort of everyone else.

The Business Dictionary defines it as “Authority or power that is dependent on fear, suppression of free will, and/or use of punishment or threat, for its existence.”

This is the 4th in a seven part series on the Bases of Power. The underlying meaning of power in our context – leadership and management – is INFLUENCE. We, as those who shoulder the responsibility of directing departments, groups, institutions, and organizations, must be able to influence others. Our objective is to move forward, achieve goals, reach targets, make an impact, and fulfill vision.

To do that we must enlist the cooperation of others. Coercive forces others to cooperate. It does not enlist their cooperation.

Effective leaders have a multi-faceted approach to leadership. They can call up different approaches, manifest different styles, and use various devices to motivate, manage, and lead.

Coercive force is sometimes, even rarely called for. It presumes an adversarial relationship exists and once coercive force is employed an adversarial relationship will certainly result even if it was not there before.

It might be the oldest form of power in the context of structured relationships. Coercive power is the raw exercise of authority over others. Conquering armies use it as do monarchs.

It can usually be justified in times of crisis and chaos. If all hell is breaking loose, there might not be the time to assemble a focus group and come up with a plan. Coercive power can be mean spirited and abusive. Sometimes, as in crisis, it might be the most efficient and effective means to the end.

But it most often manifests itself in insecure leaders and managers where it easily becomes abusive. Emotionally and psychologically insecure leaders fear losing control and this is where coercive power takes on an insidious approach. You may have worked for or with a master manipulator who will do whatever it takes to get you to do what they want you to do. This is where it gets tricky because coercive power is not always blunt force. It is, especially in this day and age, more often seen as subtle, indirect manipulation.

Those who resort to coercive force do not regard people as people. They regard people as objects, devices to be controlled and maneuvered.

Because followers follow from fear or manipulation, commitment is superficial. The focus is always on the one doing the controlling. But, control is mostly reactive and temporary.

I once worked as a consultant for a master controller and manipulator. His mantra was POTC which he explained meant:





If we define “control” in the “manage and oversee” sense, all is well. If we take it like he did, it meant absolutely squelch any and all sense of individuality and cooperative participation. Control for him really meant coerce. You either did what he said in precisely the manner he said it or you were out. He was physically and emotionally exhausted because the functions of the entire organization depended on him and his need to control everything.

I would like to propose a slight alteration to his mantra. POTC is fine, but let’s define it as





Why “COORDINATE”? Because coercive power should be used very, very sparingly and only as a last resort. Leaders and managers will be far more fruitful and far less stressed when we learn to coordinate the talent that works alongside. Positions of authority are important. The bases of our authority and the devices we employ are critical.


6 Bases of Power – Transactional

The desire for an answer  is on everyone’s mind but seldom expressed early on. Every job applicant wants to know how much. Every employer wants to know how little.

The question? The applicant wants to know how much will I get paid? The employer wants to know how little can s/he pay and still get the position filled.

Transactional power is as old and as enduring as time itself. Social and commercial interaction with people has always revolved around give and take. We as owners, leaders, and/or managers have a supply of incentives to offer in exchange for time, talent, effort, and to a limited degree, enthusiasm.

It has been around so long because it works. I’ve taken jobs for the incentives like everyone else. Every business uses them of necessity. Only interns whose ultimate objective is a paying job will work for free in a commercial setting…and they won’t do it for long. The now famous “Show me the money!” underscores just how powerful this is.

It applies in non-profit settings, too. Volunteers may not work for money but they work for some currency. Effective leaders of non-profit organizations understand there must be a pay-off, the volunteer must receive something in return or they won’t volunteer for long. (There is much, much more I have to say about this since this was my field for many years. Stay tuned for future posts.)

There are limits, however. I can buy a person’s time, talent, and energy. It is much more difficult to buy a person’s heart. The endemic motivation to participate with your company and do so enthusiastically is far more subtle. There is a blend of personal values which must match and remain matched to the values of the company. Effective leaders know who works for them and what fuels the fire. Too many leaders are either clueless or they assume all employees are the same, a grave error.

What am I saying? That money is not the only incentive and most certainly not the only fuel for maintaining motivation. Notice I said “maintaining motivation.” Most people are motivated already, the question is what are they motivated toward?

Effective transactional leaders find out.

Finally, transactional power tends to be more individual than corporate. It tends to play best and reinforce individual participation and achievement, almost always because incentives are individual. Team building incentives can work if they are carefully designed to appeal to a small group. Make the incentive governable within a controlled group. Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers has taken away individual incentive and replaces it with their SSEI – Sales Service Employee Initiative. But the matrix for determining pay-outs is so complicated and the result too dependent upon performance for the entire store that most employees have given up because they cannot control the actions and performance of someone on the far side of the store. Many employees consider it to be a shell game. If the incentivized transaction is to work it must be:

Personal – connect with the individual in ways that mean something to that individual.

Manageable – simple enough that the individual can see where to grab hold of it and learn how to make it work.

Meaningful – match values and ideals within the employee.

How well do your incentives work? What have you tried that succeeded? What have you tried that failed?

Check out the video below.


The 6 Bases of Power – #1 Official Power

principal's officeThis just might be the most visible and common basis for power in our culture. Government is everywhere with its many officials who wield some degree of power over some segment of life. Police, firemen, zoning inspectors, building inspectors, tax collectors, license bureaus, apartment managers, condo boards, homeowner’s associations, the BATF, the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, Homeland Security, and more. From top to bottom and everywhere in between, official power can be seen and felt.

Then there is the job place. We have managers, supervisors, owners, corporate officers, team leaders, and union officials. In one way or another each of us is either under official power or sits in its seat. Usually we do both.

Power, in this case, is granted because we occupy a seat of power. The power that exists does so because there is some legal and/or cultural sanction for it. In a civilized and orderly society, we recognize the need for it and submit ourselves to it. The power we manifest in an official capacity is derived from the position and title.

A supervisor supervises, a manager manages, a leader leads, and a president presides. The extent of supervising, managing, leading, and presiding depends, of course, on the office, more about that later in this post.

Now, in theory at least, official power is directly connected to obligations. Meeting the obligations of office, both explicit and implicit, reinforces the power bestowed on the seated official and validates the person in the office. Failure to meet those obligations erodes power.

As leaders and managers, we should be aware of it and capable of meeting its implicit and explicit obligations. In an ideal world, if a person is incapable of shouldering the demands of the office s/he wouldn’t take it. Offices are not bestowed just to make a person feel better, or at least they should not be. Offices are bestowed because there are responsibilities to be met.

But ours is not an ideal world and subordinates and followers are regularly faced with yielding to official power held and wielded by those who exhibit varying degrees of incompetence.

Legitimacy for the power bestowed and consequently manifested is established by the structure – political, organizational, or commercial. There exists somewhere, a creed of demands for the office. It may be written in the form of a job description or it may be implied. The implications are much more difficult to deal with.

Under official power, an us-them relationship results. Teamwork can result but no even plane exists. There is always a top-down, us-them configuration. I am by no means implying that this is either unwarranted or ineffective. Indeed, it is necessary for the machinery of organization to work, at least in western culture. We are not, Americans at least are not, a people of consensus. We have a peculiar approach to power, perhaps unique in the modern world (the past 200 or 300 years). We set up structures, elect or select officers to occupy places of power, then become easily contrary.

When I lived in the Caribbean (US Virgin Islands) I remember listening to a local emergency management official describe the challenge he faced when he attempted to prepare the general population for an approaching storm. “We do not live,” he explained, “in a culture of compliance like exists in Cuba. We live in a culture of independence.”

If he had that much trouble enforcing regulations when it comes to a life or death threat like a major storm, what challenges must you and I face in something far less dire? Why?

Because authority is awarded upward. Since the feudal barons of England forced King John to accept the Magna Carta, we have been holding officials’ feet to the fire, accepting official authority while at the same time rejecting authoritarianism. All power, in this setting anyway, is delegated, but delegated upward from those who would be subjected to it.

Those feudal lords understood what authoritarian leader do not – that passive mass acceptance of authority should not and must not be construed as popular mass support.

Some, but not all autonomy of the subordinate is ceded the superior. Followers grant the leader/manager the right to exercise authority over them within the limits of the office because no power is absolute despite the efforts of some to make it so.

The one in the office must recognize limits and not overstep. If and when they do, they foster resentment and rebellion. In a work setting, there are limits to what we as leaders can expect and enforce. Henry Ford tried to engage in social engineering when his “Social Department” which offered profit sharing as long as employees complied with his description of accepted behavior. He set up a team of 50 investigators along with support staff to visit the homes of his employees and determine if they were engaging in heavy drinking or gambling.

We as employers must address the problems of imprudent behavior in our associates and employees, but our authority and power ends at the workplace door. We can, and should, insist on safe and responsible behavior on the job. What may occur off the job must be directly and explicitly tied to the job.

A personal relationship does not necessarily exist nor does it need to. The relationship in an official power structure is mechanical not organic. Power as it is manifest in the office imposes itself on those within the jurisdiction of the office. Personal relationships are not unwelcome nor should they be unless personal relationships give rise to suggestions of cronyism, favoritism, or harassment.

The lines of authority are defined by the structure. In our culture we love and gravitate to charts and diagrams that delineate and define how things fit together and how they should work. I am not apologizing. I like them, set them up, study them, and offer advice to organizations when they experience problems with them. Lines and systems of authority promote feelings of security because we can know what to expect and where it will come from.

Power does not entirely depend on the person occupying the office. The office itself is the source of power so unassuming people make take on the mantle of authority because their office and position bestows it upon them.

Therefore, respect is granted because of the office. If the person is not exactly an imposing or commanding figure, their office gives them a place of deserved respect.  I find many new leaders or leaders in a new office can be reluctant to accept and/or exercise the trappings of office. Some even make the mistake of trying to be too much like their followers. There is a distinction between imperialism and aloofness and commonality. Officers have their own uniforms and protocol. Do not apologize for shouldering official power if you came by it legitimately.

Why? Because leaders and managers have every right to expect, and demand, respect for the office they occupy. There’s work to be done and people work best when there is a chain of command, a decision-making figure, and a central figure to make things happen.

At the same time, leaders and manager should conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the office. Novices, psychologically insecure people, and tyrants ignore this. They claim the right of kings to do whatever they want to whomever they want. This will provoke your followers to the barricades and they will erect a guillotine in the town square.

Out of office equals out of power. Once the tenure in the office ends, once you leave the position, so does your authority. This can create two problems. Some are reluctant to give it up because one’s identity as a person can be so imprinted with the office they occupied that they just can’t give it up. Second, once they’ve left their former subordinates will compare the new against the old.

Authority is derived from implied responsibility and how well we fulfill it. The power of the office and its corresponding authority to accomplish it can be eroded when we screw up. If expectations are not met, influence diminishes.

Earlier in this post I spoke of expectations. Usually an implied contract exists, a slate of expected results. Unfortunately, followers often cannot or will not define their expectations and their expectations can be unrealistic.

When they are not met, conversation is necessary to clarify and rectify. It becomes imperative to discuss those expectations with those who are disappointed to determine if they were unrealistic, impatient, or not.

Official power is everywhere.  It is necessary for the functions of government and business. It allows for flow of power and authority from place to place and person to person.

It is possible to wield it without apology or explanation. The Nixonian “I am your President” should not be necessary. If you have to keep reminding followers of your office either they are hung up on titles or you are. Effective leaders and managers shoulder the office with the objectives of their office always in mind. They let their accomplishments establish and validate your credentials.

The next article in this series will address Transactional Power. Please check out the video below and pass this on to a friend or colleague you think might benefit from it.


Find more articles and videos on leadership and management at: www.ThePracticalLeader.com


Power trouble – How one unscrupulous leader destroyed up and coming leadership under them

antCliff was a recent new hire for the company. He had been recruited by a man who was the second-in-command of the US office and the head of the Canadian office. Cliff had been hired for one specific and focused job, to develop and oversee the Latin American interests of that company, a job which had been vacant for quite some time.

At the conclusion of his first week on the job, Sam, the head of the entire company, asked to have lunch with Cliff so he, Sam, could discuss a matter of importance and urgency. During that lunchtime encounter, Sam told Cliff that he had wanted to retire for quite some time but had not found a successor. Now, he told Cliff, he believed he had and was going to hand over the reins of the American headquarters and the entire company  to Cliff.

Cliff was shocked.

He barely knew the man, knew of the company only by reputation, and felt completely inadequate for such a task. Nevertheless, out of respect for Sam and his company, he was willing to pursue the matter over time if that was indeed what the man wanted.

Over the next several weeks and months Cliff was assigned more and more responsibility. On a business trip with him, Sam suggested that a formal transition plan be drawn up to be presented to the Board of Directors at the next meeting in a few weeks. After more discussion about the particulars, Sam asked Cliff to draw it up, which he did.

The boss asked Cliff to make the presentation at the meeting of the directors, which seemed odd to Cliff. Why didn’t Sam make the presentation himself? But, wanting to comply, Cliff agreed.

During the board meeting, Sam said, with neither explanation nor elaboration, that Cliff had a proposal to make. Cliff passed around copies to everyone and made the pitch according to the criteria he and Sam had discussed and to which Sam had not only agreed but had indeed stated should be included. It called for a gradual transition over a considerable period of time.

Then, the weather turned stormy. The board, almost to a man, objected. Cliff was too new, too unknown. They asked Cliff to step outside so they could discuss it privately, which he did. When they called him back in, Cliff was told that his plan, emphasis on his, was not acceptable.  Cliff turned to Sam and asked him if he had not told the board that the idea was not Cliff’s but Sam’s.

Sam just sat there.

Cliff had been hung out to dry.

The relationship did not last much longer, for reasons that are quite obvious. Any respect Cliff may have had for Sam immediately vanished. Sam’s actions were either conspiratorial, which means that Sam is Machiavellian, or they were cowardly. Either way, it spelled doom.

Now, what is the point? Well, I have been writing these past several posts about power. This story (I changed the names but it actually did happen) demonstrates how destructive power can be.

Here is how:

First, when power is misused in this manner it certainly destroys one’s standing and relationship with subordinates because it teaches them that any trust they may have had in you has been proven to be stupid and dangerous.

Second, such manifestations reveal a lack of integrity. If a leader will say and do what Sam did, s/he has no scruples at all. They lack emotional maturity and psychological stability. They make plans without prudence. They toy with the emotions, hopes, and good will of others. At worst, they are scheming and conniving.

Third, assuming that a lack of scruples is untrue and that the leader meant well but it turned sour, an event like this then demonstrates cowardice. The leader lacks the cajones to own up to his or her actions, intentions, and decisions, to back up his own plan, and to defend those who trusted in him.

The argument was made in the board meeting that Cliff was too ambitious. This diagnosis was incorrect and indicative of a group who thinks way yonder too highly of themselves. They, like Herod in the New Testament, claimed to acknowledge and invite new leadership (Herod, for those who may not be familiar with the story, was the reigning Roman governor over Judea at the time of the birth of the Christ child. When Herod was told of the birth it was described as the birth of he who would be King of the Jews. Herod claimed to welcome the news asking that when the birthplace was learned that he be told so that he could worship the child too. What he really did was sadistically order the murder of every Hebrew boy under the age of two.) When new leadership does appear, which by the way it always will and always must, it is viewed as a threat to the old order. Some far-sighted leaders welcome and cultivate it. Others, like Sam, use insidious methods to sniff it out and then use even more insidious devices to snuff it out.

Fourth, Sam was much too clever to simply fire Cliff. He had to humiliate and stain him so the problem would be Cliff’s, not Sam’s. So he manipulated a trusting and enthusiastic young man into a trap and sprung it at a board meeting where the others, with only a little encouragement, would paint Cliff as ambitious and clawing for more power.

Here’s a hint. Never confuse enthusiasm in your subordinates for ambition! It may look the same, but find out before you cast apsersions.

And never resort to tricks like Sam. The Sam’s of this world will win many battles, but they do so at great personal cost, and like Herod they ultimately lose the war.

Are there more ways unscrupulous leaders misuse power? Absolutely! I am certain you have a horror story or two. Send them along by leaving a comment below or, if that is too public for you, send them to me in an email to jack@thepracticalleader.com. I’ll address the principles in a future post (without identifying you unless you want to be.)


3 Ways to really piss off your associates and employees – When power is abused and misused

frustrated employeeMatt was a high-volume sales associate in a large retail store. He sold custom-built products that required a significant amount of time to prepare estimates and proposals. On one Thursday evening he was working  alone at his desk in his department when the manager from another department in the store came to Matt and asked about the status of one proposal the other department manager had initiated. In that store, sales associates from anywhere could begin the process but it was the responsibility of the specialist to complete the process.

Matt explained that he was not pursuing that proposal because the customer had declined to comply with government-mandated permits for the installation of the product. “This sale,” Matt explained, “is dead. But I do have estimates sitting here on my desk I am working on right now that amount to more than $50,000 worth of sales.”

The interfering manager would not let it go. He kept insisting that Matt drop those projects and return to the project Matt had already proclaimed to be DOA.

“Don’t you care about the store’s reputation to meet customer’s needs?” the manager challenged. And he would not let it go.

Now, if you really want to discredit yourself as a leader and/or manager and if you really want to piss off a productive employee, try something as stupid as that.

Guilt trips always end unhappily. Always!

Matt’s sense of responsibility should have been obvious to that meddling manager from across the store. Matt was not just sitting around. He was working on large orders at that moment. Matt had carefully explained that pursuit of the project in question was futile.  The manager’s interference brought on frustration, resentment, and confusion. Matt now wondered if he was required to pursue futile projects or focus on those promising profit. What mistakes did the meddling manager make?

Mistake #1 – He meddled. He was guilty of trying to direct the actions of an employee not directly his responsibility. While technically, in that company anyway, managers of any department do possess authority over subordinate employees anywhere else, that authority is not absolute. If you do not have a relationship with those outside your domain, and if there is no immediate crisis for which discussion is not possible, issuing orders like he has done only result in misunderstanding BECAUSE THEY ARE BASED ON MISUNDERSTANDING.  A side to side approach will work far better than a top to bottom one.

Mistake #2 – He used an X-style to deal with a Y-situation. I am referring to MacGregor’s X & Y management styles. The X style is direct, dictatorial, and demanding. In some cases this is precisely what is required, particularly when you are addressing the EFFECTS of decisions made and actions taken which result in a crisis demanding immediate and aggressive action to prevent catastrophe. The Y style is indirect, parliamentary, and participative. The meddling manager had no real basis of authority other than on structural grounds. As I wrote earlier in this series, authority is granted upward. The official authority that comes with one’s office must be supplanted by one that comes from one’s character and association. If you try to use X when Y is more appropriate you come off as a bully.

Mistake #3 – He used guilt to try to gain cooperation when logic and reason had proven him to be wrong. Manipulation is manipulation and our employees are too smart to be fooled by a stupid argument like the one our meddler used. Guilt is the result of desperation, used by someone when they have no real basis for their argument. If we gain the upper hand by using guilt, we will plant the seeds of resentment, anger, and rebellion. Cooperation and collaboration are far more effective. Far more!

The objective of all management and leadership is results, to find the most expedient, efficient, and effective path to success and follow it. When a productive and fruitful employee like Matt comes along, don’t screw it up. Let them do their job.

The meddling manager manifested the dog on a walk syndrome meaning he needed to piss on the territory of a neighboring dog to show he was there. This is why I’ve given this post the title it has – 3 ways to piss off your employees.

More next week.

Power Plays – Getting the job done

Power Lines diagram functionA friend once remarked that “It is amazing how much you can get done if you just do it.” A look at a jobs offered column on line or in a newspaper will inevitably turn up several with the qualifier “Must be a self-starter.”  Why? Because you hire people to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work. You do not, or at least you should not, hire people who make your life and job more difficult or complicated.

I’ve been writing about the flow of power within your department, company, or organization. If you’ve been following along, you are familiar with this diagram. The flow of power starts with and returns to you, the leader and/or manager. You’re the one to get things going, to set things in motion and ultimately to qualify their success.

The act of delegation, discussed in this post, passes a job off to a subordinate or associate.

The key is to pass off a responsibility, discussed here, not simply place someone in a position. The title is not the central focus. The responsibility is.

When the responsibility is defined and assigned, commensurate authority is assigned. In the article I wrote here, I explain how authority is conditional even while it grants some degree of autonomy.

Next, in this post, I discussed how you and those who work with you will define and describe precisely what terms by which the job and their performance will be evaluated. It is very critical that this step not be neglected. Institute a “no surprises” habit. You don’t like being blindsided, your associates don’t like it either.

The reason for and method of accountability comes next. The circuit, the flow of power starts to cycle back to you here. The mechanisms for reporting may be formal such as in written reports or informal such as a verbal report or both, but they need to be there.

Then, once you have defined what you are going to hand off, the person or persons to whom you will assign that responsibility is defined and solicited, the responsibility is defined, the authority is assigned, the evaluation criteria are agreed, and the method of accountability is contracted, then, and only then, do you hand off the task.

Function begins then. Admittedly some associates are well dialed in to what needs to be done and their responsibility in getting it done. Over time you develop levels of experience and trust that can leave some of the above steps implied simply because you’ve covered that ground with that person enough that everyone knows what’s what.

But for new people and new situations, you’ll need to make a judgment call about how much to define. My advice is to err on the side of caution at first. I will discuss how this can become annoying and irksome to trusted people in a future post.

The circuit, necessary for the safe flow of power, is complete. And it repeats itself over and over as you hand off more and more.

Why do you hire someone? Because they possess the skills and personality to do a certain task or set of tasks. Then let them do their job. Meddling is not managing. Pestering is not conscientious oversight.  Leadership is bringing people willingly to a place of growth, contributing to that growth when necessary but allowing those you lead the experience and satisfaction of doing their job. Most people want to do a good job.

But some employees and associates find it difficult to focus. They are easily distracted. They could be eager to please and over-responsible so they get drawn off into another job to help you or someone out. Then they are drawn off into another one, then another and never get back to their original responsibilities. This can be understandable because we all know that we cannot control every minute of the day. There are inevitable interruptions and at least some of our time is at the mercy of someone else.

Or they could be lazy. I worked with someone once who spent huge amounts of time figuring out ways to get out of doing his job. Or they could be in the wrong spot. It might be they don’t have the skills to do what they need to do and are either need more training or to be assigned somewhere else.

But all of that should either be discovered and discussed in the beginning or very shortly thereafter. If they can’t do the job, find someone who can. Remember, this is not personal. It is business. I hired a young man to work as a semi-skilled assistant in my shop. It became evident to me early on that he was not going to be a good fit. A visiting friend  of mine suggested that the poor fellow had a bad family life and needed a father figure to guide him in life. I reminded my friend that I was not a therapist and my shop not a therapy center. I had orders to fill, work to be completed, and hours to bill. If the fellow couldn’t cut it he couldn’t cut it. Nothing personal . Everything business.

The next articles in this series address power systems – how power is wielded, both properly and improperly. See you Thursday.

Power Plays – Accountability

Power Lines accountabilityNot long ago I sat across a desk from a small business owner whose business has experienced rapid expansion in the past two years. Going against the trends in the general economy his company was invoicing $750,000 annually last year and will invoice approximately $2,000,000 this year.

Among the items we discussed, one emerged that seemed to trouble him the most. In the expansion of his business he has hired several new technicians. However, there are two who have been with the company a long time. Neither of them have been able to keep pace with new technology and the inevitable changes in procedures and standards that come when a company expands that rapidly and to that degree.

“What,” he asked, “should I do with those two?”

I explained that the most personally challenging part of managing a business is addressing the problem of employees and associates who fail to keep up with the demands of their position. So here is what I advised:

  1. Business is business and all aspects of it eventually must be addressed as business. Delegate jobs and establish objectives using business objectives, not personal ones. Evaluations are to be made by those objective and subjective criteria that you have already established.
  2. Hold everyone accountable to the same standards if they are doing the same job and by the same standard of standards if they are not. Bricklayers are not plumbers but in both cases there is a level of acceptable work that must be maintained. If a person cannot meet that level, they cannot have the position. It’s not personal, it’s business. Never ever play favorites of any type in any manner.
  3. Morale will suffer and your credibility will begin to fail if you allow standards in one you don’t allow in another. Do not fool yourself. Others can and do see what’s going on.
  4. Every time I let someone slide and made personal and individual consideration for them, it came back to bite me. Take it from a seasoned veteran of the workforce trenches, you cannot expect reciprocity. If you let standards slide, make accommodations, or otherwise personalize a position thinking it will build loyalty and a sense of ownership, it won’t. Investment is made when it costs the investor something, in this case the effort to meet the responsibility. Granting indulgences only sets the grantee up for more grants.
  5. The action of holding accountable subordinates and associates, those to whom you have delegated responsibility, and the manner in which it is done may be the primary indicator of one’s leadership ability. Business ownership and organizational leadership means taking the heat for doing the hard things. That really is why you get the big(ger) money.
  6. There is a reason why the military distinguishes rank. Higher ranks have higher responsibility, can see the big picture, and know how to lead. Higher ranks quickly lose their capacity to command by being one of the guys. They are them and you are you. I am not even remotely suggesting that you remain aloof or be unfriendly. I am suggesting that there is the need to maintain distance. More about this in a future post.

Accountability, which is one of the traits of keepers I wrote of here, is:

  • The obligation to give a record of what has happened or not happened,
  • Accept responsibility for success, partial success, failure or partial failure, and
  • To disclose the results transparently, holding nothing back.

Show your associates and employees the diagram that accompanies these articles. Explain the process, and enforce it. You need to know and they need to be accountable, it’s part of being a responsible component in the organization.

Next week I tackle the final link in the power grid. See you on Monday.

Power Plays – Evaluation

Power Lines evaluationSo far, you have articulated your vision for the company or organization. You have identified your circle of concern and your limited circle of ability. You have listed the tasks that can be delegated to someone else and created a list of people to whom you can delegate those tasks. You have identified and articulated the responsibility in terms of performance and objective and you have agreed contractually or what is to be done, how, where, and when.

Next, you have the responsibility to monitor performance. Now, I am not talking here about a 6 month performance appraisal. If 6 month or annual performance appraisals are all you do, please reconsider. They should NEVER be the only formal evaluation you do. I think they are terrible ineffective and not worth the effort. Get a copy of The One Minute Manager and read it. You can do so in less than an hour and then put it into practice.

Nor am I speaking here in this context of a personal evaluation for a raise or promotion like companies regularly do. You do those and they should be based on criteria you have developed for your situation.

I am speaking here of the evaluation that must be made of delegated tasks and responsibilities.

Thomas Monson – “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.”

Depending on the level of autonomy you’ve been able to grant, schedule periodic performance reviews accordingly. To refresh, here are the six levels of autonomy you can grant I listed in a previous article:

  1. “Look into the problem, report the facts to me. I’ll decide what to do.”
  2. “Look into the problem. Let me know of the alternatives, include the pros and cons of each and recommend one for my approval.”
  3. “Look into the problem and let me know what you intend to do. Don’t take action until I approve.”
  4. “Look into the problem and let me know what you intend to do. Plan to do it unless I say otherwise.”
  5. “Take action and let me know what you did.”
  6. “Take action, no further contact with me is required.”

Be fair. Evaluate against commonly understood criteria. Focus primarily on objectives, less so on techniques. In the end you are not as much concerned about each incremental step as you are the outcome. Indeed, there may well be steps that must be taken to meet safety, procedural, or accounting demands and there is a danger in freestyling. But all being said, you want results and within whatever latitudes you can live with, concern yourself mostly about outcomes.

You are going to evaluate objective and subjective components

Objective components:

  • On Time – make sure everyone knows what it is.
  • On Budget – how much is it and how do we count it?
  • On Spec – what are all the specifications? Make sure everyone who is involved knows all of them.

Subjective components:

  • Resourcefulness – tapping into people and the physical components necessary to get the job done
  • Attitude – cooperative or adversarial
  • Team building – Success in enlisting cooperation and assistance from others if the job demands it.
  • Communicating – providing the right information to the right people in the right time
  • Conflict management – handling friction generated by time constraints, personality clashes, or confusion about roles
  • Strategic thinking – the capacity to see the bigger picture and how an incremental task fits in
  • Making presentations, negotiating, personal habits, friendliness, selling skills, dependability, conscientiousness, pride of work and any other traits if they are germane to the job

Any and all subjective evaluations must be defined in terms of expected outcomes. Do not rely on statistical analysis. For example, I was looking to hire another craftsman for my shop when a man came in with all the right credentials. There could be no doubt he had the hard skills for the position. When I checked references, however, I discovered he had such an abrasive manner that within a very short time he had previous workplaces in complete turmoil and disarray. I did not pursue hiring him.

Team- member evaluation

If the delegated task or the assigned position calls for working with others (almost all of them do), then soliciting the input and evaluation of others can prove useful. If you do be certain that there is never the slightest hint of retaliation or threat. When I worked for a major home improvement retailer the store managers got a lot nicer in August because the corporate evaluation forms hit our store in September. When the forms did come, you had to go to the HR guy who gave you the one with your name on it. Inside there was a code you punched in to a computer program to access the evaluation. Many, if not most, employees flavored their evaluations more favorably to the store because they did not believe that the evaluations were anonymous and they feared retaliation. The store should have provided a box full non-personalized access codes, enough for every employee in the store. Then when an employee came in s/he drew one of the codes, entered it, and completed the evaluation. The corporate suits would have an honest evaluation from that store and the employee would be anonymous. Instead, they actually believed their entries were tied to the number which was identified to be them.


I’ll be honest here and tell you I have never found this to be very reliable. It takes a very self-aware and psychologically secure person to provide a self-evaluation of merit. You can discover how another feels they did and get an idea of their soft-skill attribute of awareness. You can discover how confident they might be. And on occasion you will learn how things are going. But, that being said, this is a tough area to evaluate and I never relied much on it. I did not discount it altogether because it is important to give an associate their say.

The element of evaluation should be discussed and agreed upon at the time the task is delegated or the position is assigned. Institute a no surprises policy. The worst thing you can do is what Kenneth Blanchard calls the “let alone – zap” method of management which means you say nothing until something goes wrong then you lower the boom. Define what is to be done and how you BOTH are going to determine the degree of success or failure.

The element of accountability is next. See you on Thursday.

Power Plays – Authority

Power Lines diagram authorityPower has a source, a circuit, and a purpose. The laptop into which I am entering these words is powered by a battery which receives its power from a wall outlet which receives its power from a power line which is powered by a generating plant.

The circuit is completed when the power flows from the generating plant through the lines into my house into the adapter and into my laptop which completes the circuit by running it through the computers many components and back to ground. Since the generator is connected to “ground” the circuit is complete and made so when the power converts electrical energy into another source of energy which yields the desired results. My document is written and posted where you can read it.

Power without a complete circuit goes no where. The energy remains in the line until work is performed. If there is a short, there are lots of sparks and consequential damage which prevents the completion of work.

Ok, enough about the dynamics of energy transfer. How does that apply to us as leaders and managers?

The power starts somewhere, probably with you. But you might be a component along the way and get the power from someone farther up the line – your boss, supervisor, or board of directors. Your personal engine of competence can’t do everything so you’ve hooked up more tools and are delegating to them this job or that.

By now we have covered the first two components in the distribution of power throughout your department, company, or organization – Delegation and Responsibility. This unit in the series will address the concept and practice of Authority. Delegation is the power outlet, the wall plug-in that connects the power source to the device. Responsibility is the purpose of the device, the reason it’s connected at this time because it specifies its purpose. Authority is the flow of power.

I am a user of BusinessDictionary.com. If you haven’t used the site, take a quick look (wait until after you’ve finished this article, please). Definitions found there are contextually inclusive for those of us in business or organizational settings. I like what they say about authority:

1. Institutionalized and legal power inherent in a particular job, function, or position that is meant to enable its holder to successfully carry out his or her responsibilities.

2. Power that is delegated formally. It includes a right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders and expect them to be obeyed, it is always accompanied by an equal responsibility for one’s actions or a failure to act.

They agree with me. Authority is forever and always tied to a job, function, or responsibility and it is consequential. It carries with it rewards or penalties.

You know how packaged inside the box of every new appliance there is a list of cautions and directives you are warned to read BEFORE using the device? Well, here is my list of ten things to remember before you start connecting people and handing out responsibilities.

  1. Authority is both delegated DOWNWARD and awarded UPWARD. You authorize someone for a particular job. They grant you authority to oversee and hold accountable.
  2. When a person accepts a subordinate role, they essentially delegate a portion of their personal AUTHORITY and AUTONOMY to their superior (that’s you). Subordinates do not act in a monarchy. They owe you for the responsibility and authority you have yielded to them.
  3. When authority is given, there exists an IMPLIED CONTRACT that says, “If you will commit yourself to accomplish this goal, we will delegate to you the authority you need to achieve it.”
  4. Authority must match the responsibility. Give enough to get the job done as specified, not more, not less.
  5. A leader can never give away all his authority.
  6. Authority should first be given to a POSITION and a FUNCTION (a RESPONSIBILITY) not to a PERSON.
  7. Always state:
    1. What is to be accomplished
    2. How it is to be done
    3. When it is to be accomplished
  8. Always get a VERBAL AGREEMENT on the objective.
  9. Request a WRITTEN PLAN on how the objectives will be reached.

Authority, then, is official or traditional sanction for individuals occupying specified positions to perform certain directive tasks. Malcolm Forbes has said that “Those  who enjoy responsibility usually get it; those who merely like exercising  authority usually lose it.” I concur.  What experience you have had when delegating jobs? How did it work out?

Previous articles in this series:

The Gentle Side of Force

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 1

Power Plays – How Power Flows Part 2

The Six Principles of Delegating