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The Purpose Of Power

A few years ago, I was with a group of Popeyes assistant restaurant managers and I asked them, “what happens when one of your friends gets promoted to restaurant manager? Does anything change?”

Laughter. Of course it does!

“They become ‘the boss.’ It’s different.”

“Suddenly act like they own the place.”

“Some act like they’re better than us.”

Why does getting promoted to leadership change our behavior? You know what I mean… Hands on hips.  Stern faces. Louder voice. Wearing power on the sleeve.

Recently there has been this public discussion of whether we should use the word “bossy” when referring to women leaders. I find the conversation rather amusing. Why does any person, male or female, need to act “bossy” when they reach a position of leadership?

Every position of leadership comes with power. If you become the restaurant general manager, we give you the keys to the building. You make the bank deposits. You hire and train the people. You resolve conflict. You have a lot of responsibility. That’s power.

A critical conversation to have with yourself when you become a leader is this: “I have been given power. How will I use that power?”

When we are first promoted, we are often a bit giddy about the new role. We are proud to have reached the position. We’ve waited for this moment of leadership and we can’t wait to start. We want to prove that we deserved this – in fact, we were ready for this role months ago. Finally we’re in charge!

So what next? Well, of course, we’ll implement all the things we’ve been waiting to do when we become the boss!

Avoid the power trap: there is a better approach.

I learned this from one of the best leaders I have worked for. His name is Lou Gerstner – and I watched him carefully when he became the CEO of the company I worked for, RJR Nabisco. His first act? He traveled to every facility and met with employees in small groups of 10-12 people. In these gatherings, he asked the people one question: “What would you do if you were the CEO of this company?”

Over the course of the next 12 months, Gerstner traveled the world meeting with small groups and asking this one question. It was beautiful to watch. Everywhere he went, people said:

  • “I’ve never met a CEO before.”
  • “He didn’t show up in a limo. It was a Ford sedan.”
  • “He was interested in our projects.”
  • “He wanted to know our opinions.”
  • “He wrote down notes like we were saying something important.”

And then he did another amazing thing. He acted on the suggestions of the people he met. And the company grew and prospered. And the people raved about this newly promoted leader.

He used the power of his position for the benefit of the people and the enterprise.

What would the people say about your promotion to a position of power?

Were you thinking only of yourself – and the opportunity to implement your plans?

Did you stop and listen to the people, to let them know they have value and you need their ideas to help the business prosper?

Getting promoted is an opportunity to access the talent of your team, and working together, to create a high performance organization.

Power is a privilege. When it is used to serve others, the result is superior performance.

Serve well.

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