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:

Management 101 – Part 1 – PLAN

planningPOTC – the four elemental components of any effective management strategy

I am still in Uganda and will be for several more weeks. It is my privilege to be training some new managers as they make the transition into the realm of those who lead others.

I am well aware of the Peter Principle which says that in an organization, personnel tend to rise to the level of their incompetence. And I am aware that not everyone can make the transition into places of authority and to the command of others. But one works with what one has with the understanding that some will make the grade and others will not. Even seasoned trainers cannot always predict who will rise to the challenge until the person gives it a go.

I am also aware that it is almost certain that if adequate preparation is not provided, the attrition rate among new managers will be higher. So I am here giving what amounts to basic training in management to a team of people we hope can rise to the level of ability and responsibility their jobs require.

Reaching back to the fundamental principles of management I am emphasizing the four elemental components of an effective strategy – POTC:  


PLAN     –     ORGANIZE     –     TRAIN     –     CONTROL


No manager can skip the planning stage. Getting somewhere demands consideration of where you want to go connected to where you are and a PLAN for getting from here to there. It demands knowledge of and consideration of the conditions and components that will be necessary to get the plan operational. Planning does these 9 things for the manager/leader:

  • It makes your work and the work of others more efficient. Translate to mean it gets more done for less time, less effort, less money which can only mean one thing – profit. Even if your position is in a non-profit organization there is still the imperative to efficiently utilize the organization’s resources and funds. Therefore,


  • Planning enhances efficiency because planning denotes and connotes ORDER. Order creates more out of less. For visual evidence of that, think of a cluttered closet or cupboard. When disorder exists in a storage closet, all available and useable space is filled with a jumble of items. Putting those things in order creates useable space that was not there before. It creates more out of less. Part 2 of this series is ORGANIZE where I will examine the topic more thoroughly.


  • Planning manages risk. The very act of planning means looking into what is going to happen and factoring in what could affect wither the outcome or the path to the outcome. Planning tries to accommodate the circumstance that could impact events so that their impact is not life-threatening.


  • Planning mechanizes people and processes in the sense that it coordinates them avoiding or at least minimizing duplication of effort, minimizes waste of either effort or resources, and perhaps most importantly, reduces friction that always occurs whenever two parts in motion make contact. If nothing is moving, if nothing is happening, no friction exists because nothing is moving. Planning considers that friction will occur and addresses it.


  • Planning enlightens the manager about what will need to be done and what are the expected results, therefore the manager wikll better know what skills and attitudes will be required. Planning anticipates training, the third topic in this series.


  • Planning focuses the direction of the organization toward agreed upon objectives that in turn validate the company. It is not enough to do things. It is necessary to do the correct things in the correct sequence. Planning does that.


  • Planning assists in maintaining control. I will address the control factor soon (hint: the “C” in POTC is? You guessed it. Control.


  • Planning unleashes motivation and keeps it at a healthy level. Responsible people respond positively when they see their efforts actually mean something. People hate busy work. They respond negatively when they are asked to do something just to do it. They respond better when they can readily see how what they do has meaning, relevance, and importance. Planning means you actually thought about this before you asked them to do it.


  • Planning requires you, the manager, to be attentive, creative, and innovative. Managers have to think, they have to understand, they have to have ideas. This is one of the key differences that separates leaders from followers.

The next article will cover ORGANIZING. Until then, what benefits have you seen from planning that I did not include in my list? What did you discover when you or someone you worked for failed to plan well?

Helping your associates grow

I want a staff entirely populated by trusted associates. Everyone does but hardly anyone has a staff who function at that level all the time. Someone somewhere at some time is unaware, that is to say, they are unconsciously incompetent.

You’ve probably seen this chart but I’ve put it in for a visual reference. Louis, the intern mentioned in the two previous posts, functioned more at that level that at any other, but was blissfully unaware of his incompetence. The operative word here is “blissfully”. Louis was incompetent, did not know he was incompetent, but had never been put up against visible, measureable, cognitive standards of awareness and performance to the point that he could grasp his incompetence.

He didn’t know that he didn’t know and, in that happy state of foggy standards, had appraised himself to be above average.

Effective leaders cyclically expose followers to concepts, skills, ideas, and tasks they don’t already know. This is called growth.

Notice I said cyclically. I did not say continually or regularly. To do so regularly or continually will provoke frustration, anger, fatigue, dismay, and deflation. People need positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment if they are to remain motivated.

But, they also need to be challenged if they are to avoid arrogance and self-righteousness. So, don’t nag, it works against you.

If you have people in your staff at the lowest level – forced laborer, (See the chart here) you should consider either finding a place for them to function somewhere else, or hand them off to a subordinate who can manage them thus freeing you to lead the others.

At the other three levels you can by and large leave people alone to do their jobs unless and until your direct intervention is called for. You, as leader, are monitoring and measuring two critical components – competence and confidence.

What are you looking for? You are looking for the teachable moment, that point when the person you are leading becomes aware that either they are ignorant of a required skill, attitude, aptitude, or insight and need to be instructed or they know of it but need coaching to integrate the skill, attitude, or aptitude.

If you try to intervene when a person is confident and competent your intervention will be regarded as interference and provoke resentment. If you try to intervene when the person is unconsciously incompetent, you will confound them.

I am not suggesting that you simply leave people alone to flounder around until they get so frustrated they ask for help. I am suggesting that you lead, not ignore. Remember the three essential skills of effective leadership?

  1. Understand what’s going on all the time everywhere.
  2. Know what needs to be done.
  3. The ability to influence those you lead to follow your leadership.

So, your role is to:

  1. Know where you want to go with the person you’re working with.
  2. Know where you are.
  3. Know what steps to take to get from where you are to where you want to go.
  4. Do that over and over.

The function of development is cyclical. It should get easier along the way because you build confidence within the person(s) you are leading and you strengthen their confidence between you and them so they more comfortably respond to your leadership. They develop confidence in your competence while they deepen confidence in their own competence too.

Laws of leadership – getting to know the ropes

 width=When a new sailor arrived on board, he had to learn how to tie knots and which rope hauled up which sail. After which of course they would know the ropes. It is an expression used in all kinds of settings these days, but the principal applies especially well here.

When I graduated from college, the organization I worked for sent my wife and me to a remote post for the express purpose of assisting the on-sight directors. We arrived there full of hope and enthusiasm.

I remember vividly stepping outside our little home that first morning, looking up into the sky, and saying right out loud, “I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

My degree hung in a new frame on the wall. My head was filled with information. Most of it proved to be conceptually true but turned out to be practically of little immediate value.

Novices often arrive into positions of responsibility fully educated but poorly acclimated. Education can prepare one by providing information, it is not so successful when it comes to applying that information to a problem or in a position of responsibility.

Here’s why? Knowledge can indeed shape one’s perspective, inform one’s mind of the whats and whys, and expand ones capacities to reason. Isn’t it odd that vocational training does the job of preparing one for a job so much more effectively than do a liberal arts or professional education? I can complete a course as a machinist and, with a little guidance as to the exact procedures of the shop I go to work for and the specs of the project assigned to me, get right to work.

But a professional education like I had did little to prepare me for the actual job. It was my specified role to develop and train Native American leaders who would hold positions of authority in local settings on a Native American Reservation. My course load included the things I would instruct in but nothing about how to instruct. It certainly did not contextualize the information in ways the men and women I taught could apply in their setting. It was theoretical and conceptual but not very practical.

This is where effective principal number 1 comes in. Effective leaders understand the times. This is not easily learned without experience. You just have to be there, and be there for a while to know what’s going on. Why?

Because you have a frame of reference that probably does not align with the frame of reference of the person or persons you are trying to work with and lead. They see things differently than you do. Remember this: They own the territory when you arrive. You will have to buy in.

Take your time. It took me nearly two years because the culture was so different from my own. Most leadership settings are not so divergent.

When my son graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, we were privileged to be there for the ceremonies. We held a small reception for him and his associates to celebrate the event. I remember speaking with one of them, herself graduating at the same time. I asked her how she felt. She said, “I am glad to be finished with the course load, but I have no idea what to do next.” I smiled, and told her my story. Then, I encouraged her, “Don’t worry about it. No one knows when they first begin. But you will. You will.”

So what do you do? Unless it is a crisis, do as little as possible until you know what’s going on. First impressions can be false ones. Leaders need double vision. We have to see where we are going but we must also see where we are so we can know where to begin. Join in, get to know your associates, observe how things are done, you’re newly on board so learn the ropes, see better what’s going on. Then, and only then will you be best able to see what to do next.

7 Keys to lighting a fire under your employees or associates

 width=Jeff (not his real name but this is a true story) is one of the best in the business. He works for a big box store selling appliances and has been there for ten years. We were having lunch when he told me how unhappy he is at his job and that he is seriously considering leaving. One recent incident he found especially problematic.

It was a Friday, the end of the corporate accounting week. Jeff had sold in excess of $35,000 worth of appliances already that week, an outstanding demonstration of skill as a salesman made more significant considering the general economy and the serious competition from other appliance outlets.

The phone at his desk rang. It was the store manager. “We’re a little short in our overall sales budget for the week,” he began. “I see you have some estimates in your action file, why not give them a call and see if you can’t bring those sales in before we close tonight.”

That was it – a challenge to do more. What annoyed Jeff is that the boss did not say one word about the $35000 week Jeff had already had. Not one thank you, not an “Atta boy”, not even a simple acknowledgement of Jeff’s success.

“It doesn’t matter how well you have done,” Jess complained, “they always want more…and more…and more. There are lessons for leaders in this simple incident.

  •  Far too often managers forget that it is people who produce numbers, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Leaders do themselves great harm when they forget this. This is neither an isolated event nor an unusual attitude.
  • We manage people first, numbers later. Unless you as a leader or manager work in a completely isolated environment running only robots or automated machines, your first level of responsibility is to people. Your boss may hammer on you for numbers but even he is dependent upon you, a person, to make those numbers a reality. So are you. Never, ever forget that.
  • Reward those who produce, invest in those who have potential but need development, ignore those who consume. I address this much more in an upcoming book – How To Light A Fire Under Almost Anyone Without Getting Burned – but it needs to be said here. In one of our businesses we hired a supervisor who left a similar business to join our team. He has proven to be an outstanding hire and is exceptionally well-suited to the job. His former boss showed up and offered to double his wages if he would return. He responded that “It is not just money.” Then he told us, “In three years at the other job I only remember being told thank you one time. One time! You all (speaking of us as his present employers) have shown your appreciation many more times every day than they ever did in the whole time I was there.” FYI, we pay him less than they did in actual money. Acknowledgement of an employee’s or an associate’s skill goes a very, very long way. And it costs you nothing.
  • The spark of motivation is personal, relatively small, and required often, but it is what powers the engine of success. Under the hood of your car sits the power source. It is a complex machine and many parts and process must work in sync. For the sake of this topic let’s focus on just the spark plugs. They are small, cost almost nothing, and are absolutely vital. If they are not fired up at the right time, the engine sputters. Do yourself a favor. Find out what drives the people who work for you and make sure you keep it fired up. Your engagement with your associates must be personal. For God’s sake, do not send a general email when you should send a personal one. Better yet, don’t send an email at all. Get up out of your chair, walk out of your office, leave you normal range and go over to that person, look right at them, and tell them yourself.
  • Don’t just quote facts and figures. Knowing how short the numbers are against the week’s goals never pushed anyone’s button. Knowing how much you notice how well that person has done works wonders. It is the spark that fires the plug that energizes the engine that moves the gears that drive the wheels that get the car to its destination.
  • Celebrate each and every win. Be careful about the “Did you do this too’s?” How easy it is to kill the enthusiasm. It goes like this. One of your salesmen sells a whole house appliance package and the first words out of your mouth are, “Why didn’t you sell the extended warranties too?” There is no way to walk that back. You’ve said it, it has conveyed the message that you disapprove and that the salesman should have done better.  This is ineffective leadership at its worst. You have just turned a win into a loss. If you must, find some other way to talk about up-sales some other time.
  • It is entirely possible to be efficient while eroding effectiveness. A focused approach to sales and numbers may demonstrate your grasp of charts and quotas, but in the end, those who are the most productive will slow their efforts, reduce their productivity, and find a way out. Effective leaders are committed to releasing energy and ability within the people they lead. Managers tend to look at processes and statistics first and foremost.

What about you? What ways have you found to fire the spark? What have you seen or even experienced yourself that neutralizes motivation and productivity?

How we learn – and what you should do to get the most out of what you need to teach

 width=“How to Light a Fire Under People Without Getting Burned,” one of the seminars I offer, demonstrates the art of multiplying your efforts through others. I sometimes conclude the seminar with a role-playing exercise where each participant must list the tasks he or she presently does that could possibly be done by someone else, then list whom among their associates might possibly be trained to do it. Next I ask them to script how they as trainer would speak to the potential trainee to enlist their help. Finally I ask them to practice the actual interview with another student. The object of the exercise is to put the material I’ve taught into immediate use. Normally, the exercise works very well. However, on one occasion one of the seminar participants surprised me.

A leader of several years’ experience completely froze up when it came to this exercise. He was a very non-technical learner and could not grasp the activity at all. Instead of being a fun event and a practical conclusion to the seminar, it was for him a moment of extreme discomfort. Since a key element of effective learning is that the experience must be fun and non-threatening, he ceased learning at that point.

Effective leaders know how to develop and employ high impact training materials containing these four elements:

  1. The opportunity to be involved and participate.

  2. The capacity to overcome barriers to learning.

  3. The means by which the learner can buy-in to the material, i.e., “WIIFM = What’s in it for me?”

  4. The use of  appealing, non-threatening interactive methods.

A person’s innate, natural, and preferred learning style never changes and mostly depends on whether they are technically or non-technically inclined. Technical learners are those who are most comfortable with mechanics, devices, handwork, and machines performing “hard skills.” Non-technical learners are most comfortable with concepts, ideas, words, and paper, the “soft skills.”  All training materials and the experiences that employ them fit somewhere within and around these three classifications:

  1. Visual – what the student can see.

  2. Aural – what the student can hear.

  3. Kinesthetic – what the student can do.

But learners do not learn equally well between the three classifications. It greatly depends on whether the learner is technical or non-technical. To be most effective, use more than one method to impart information to those you train, remembering that each learns at differing rates and in differing ways. People with hard skills learn best by hands-on training such as practice with a machine or procedure, role-play, or simulation. Soft-skilled people learn best by seeing the information, but poorest kinesthetically. Neither group learns well through only aural means.

How do you find out whether the learner is inclined toward hard or soft skills if you don’t know them very well?

At the beginning of the training session or in an interview prior, ask them what they do for a living and for a hobby. Generally, what people do for fun fits their natural learning style.

What training materials should you use?

To show them, use:

  • boards
  • computers
  • charts
  • videos
  • handouts
  • Powerpoint presentations

To tell them, use:

  • lecture
  • discussion
  • workshop
  • tutorials

To let them, use:

  • buzz groups
  • case studies
  • brainstorming
  • action plan development exercises
  • critiques
  • critical incident analyses
  • field trips
  • games
  • interviews
  • practice exercises
  • project sessions
  • role plays
  • quizzes
  • simulation