In previous posts, I’ve written about the importance of working well with other people, and I’ve also touched on various topics relating to power. But this time, I’m going straight to the essence of power: it’s the ability to make things happen, and to get others to do what you want. Some of what follows may sound harsh, but it’s undeniably true.
Power comes in many varieties, from all-out despotism and raw force through straight ahead rationality all the way to sweet persuasion, and everything in between. I’m not advocating or condoning anything close to despotism or raw force. But I am saying that gaining power will help you become more productive and successful, and getting powerful people on your side or in your camp is almost as helpful as having that power yourself.
With this idea in mind, here are some techniques to help you move closer to the powerful side of the spectrum:
Cultivate Sources of Personal Power
Personal power flows from specific sources, which include:
- Control Over Coercion (we don’t like it, but this is a common source of power)
- Control Over Information
- Control Over Resources
- Personal Attraction
Each of these sources endows the person who possesses it, or who stands close to someone else who possesses it, with extra power to help, withhold help, or in some cases harm others.
People observing such a situation will generally modify their behavior in an effort to receive this help, or avoid this harm.
You can increase your effective level of personal power – stemming from any or all of these sources – by a systematic process of:
- Identifying one or more sources of power that you already possess or can potentially access.
- Taking steps to gain more of #1 (above), when and where possible.
- Signaling to others your possession of or access to this source of power.
- Developing more skill and judgment in wielding your power.
Note: Unless you’re a dictator (wielding power through fear), it’s wise to be cautious, polite, and gradual in exercising your power to influence others. A gentle approach keeps people on your side and avoids any resistance to your influence that may be stirred up by those who resent your choices and actions.
Regardless of your personal access to any of these sources of power, there are almost certainly other people who have more and better access than you do. As a result, they have extra power to influence other people, including you.
Cultivate People with Power
In addition to building your personal power, therefore, it’s helpful not only to recognize the power of other people, but to understand and look for ways to get closer to people with more power than you. As you move in the circles of more powerful people, some of their ability to influence others will gradually rub off on you.
To do this effectively:
Identify a Powerful Person
Notice who has influence that can be helpful to you. Different people may be more or less influential in specific areas of your work and your life.
For each powerful person, try to discern what they care most about, including not only their agenda and goals, but also their personal preferences and values. Think about how you might become helpful to them. At the same time, think about how they might become helpful to you.
But don’t go barging in.
Although they may possess a great deal of personal power, they are still people, and they will respond like everyone else: negatively to heavy-handed manipulation, positively to sincere recognition, appreciation, and respect.
Take time to plan how you can best approach each powerful person, starting with what you can say or do to attract their attention in a positive way. The idea is to begin building both practical and emotional bridges between the two of you.
One good way is to be available to help them brainstorm practical, positive ways to deal with their problems and opportunities. Another is to offer them assistance in small or large matters. It’s also good to end every interaction on a positive, friendly note.
As time goes by, look for extra opportunities to cooperate with them.
As you would with anyone who is important to you, pay attention to things they say and do – not just the big, important, work-related things, but the small, incidental, personal things, as well. Steadily build the foundations for a personal relationship, including:
- Finding similar interests,
- Mutually giving aid and comfort, overcoming difficulties,
- Personal bonding,
- Sharing experiences, including opportunities for laughter, and
- Building reliability and trust.
Sincerity and authenticity count for a great deal in this endeavor. If you’re phony, the powerful person will recognize what’s going on and the two of you will never bond. You might as well not bother.
But if you can build an honest, trusting relationship based on mutual respect and true friendship, a powerful person will add to your ability to influence others.
The net result of increasing your personal power and building better relationships with powerful people will be to strengthen your influence on others and ability to make things happen in ways that enhance your level of productivity and success.
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