When 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: