Power and responsibility.


Newly-appointed managers can be acutely aware of their new responsibilities, yet feel that they don’t have the power to achieve them. Selected on the basis of their technical ability, the authority of their new role may appear to be slight by comparison to the task ahead. Tension can infiltrate existing relationships (and even friendships) with colleagues as the gap between a colleague (friend) and a manager opens up.

What to do?

When this issue arises in coaching, it is apparent that sometimes people are woefully under-supported for the promotion and are expected to find out as they go along. The good news is that there is lots the new manager can do to.

The first is to do nothing. It prevents quick quick wrong decisions and opens up a space to observe when people are busy when they are quiet and so on. This should be followed by conversations with the influencers and significant others in your new role. A coffee catch up with a person who perhaps felt that they should have got the promotion can clear the air and get their buy-in when you ask for their opinion as to how run things, acknowledge their expertise and ask for their support. Likewise a discussion can be held with friends to clear the air and, over time, delineate boss and friend.

The idea is that a new manager builds the support of a network of relationships. Over  time, as decisions are made, the network supports or at least understands what is being done.

The next thing to do is to realise that while authority is a source of power, other sources are often more effective in the early days. Referent power is the source of power that comes from how you are perceived by others and, in particular, how much they (and the organisation’s culture) value what they see. If they value the things they see, it is a source of power and influence. So if you are seen as, say, hard working and fair, it will count for something who values those qualities and your referent power can be used to influence them.

The good news is that you can work on your referent power at any stage and build it within and outside your organisation.

The third thing to do is to work on building resilience. Of course, you cannot see what people think so you will not be able to see any successes you achieve as you achieve them. Against this you may be acutely aware of the problems. As I tell clients, there is no movie-music in life, so you don’t get the auditory cues to tell you that you are succeeding and you just have to trust to your processes.

When things get tough at work, your need for personal emotional support is likely to increase.  Make sure that any discussions on your performance at work is conducted with a person of impeccable trustworthiness, and best away from the workplace.

And keep a journal to reflect on things so you can change your reactions and behaviour as the situation demands.

Good managers make an enormous difference to people’s daily lives and it is a worthy calling. Good luck with it!

Photo-credit: Eric Anada

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