Find yourself with more power than your previous jobs ever held, and not sure what to do with it? Worried about others seeing you as a power monger now that you’ve got a bigger job? With that bigger span of control comes a level of influence that maybe you hadn’t bargained for. Bigger budget, more people under your leadership in a bigger organization, and more eyes on every move you make. Enough to make even the best leaders freeze. It’s not uncommon for leaders who really want to make a difference for their organizations to get overwhelmed by the amount of power that accompanies big jobs. Ironically, one of the greatest abuses of executive power is the abandonment of it. In an effort to create a sense of egalitarianism, to make sure new direct reports feel valued and included, and to avoid the risks associated with making decisions that have far reaching impact, many leaders struggle to exercise the authority required by their jobs.
Here are some important dos and don’ts when it comes to the clout that comes with executive territory.
Your organization is full of “that’s not fair” processes and systems that reward politics over contribution, create uneven playing fields when it comes to resource allocation, and don’t prioritize the most promising initiatives over those led by the “popular kids.” Keep this up and your organization will become a paragon of underperformance. Unseat these entrenched processes and right the injustices they create, and you will see the power you exercise reaching far greater good than you imagined.
The greatest contribution executives can make is to open up avenues for others to combine their passions and talents into unprecedented contributions. When emerging leaders test their wings, they thrive. Find out what your people are itching to try their hands at, and combine that with the most urgent strategic needs facing your organization, and watch performance soar.
Used to be information was power, but now it’s more whose interpretation of the information prevails. Hoarding the information, or spinning it, or distorting it, only leads to trouble once people find out. Very little of your organization’s performance information requires secrecy. Allow others access to it, let their voices weigh in while still retaining the final call on decisions, and you’ll see that access quickly translate to ownership of the decisions made with that information.
Yes, you get more perks than others with that higher salary, bigger office, and more staff. Don’t hide those in shame, or flaunt them to impress. Either gets you the very resentment you want to avoid. Instead, share them. Those who rank lower know you have them, but they only resent them when you indulge them despite a lack of competence. Rather than having them judge you against them, share them. Treat others to lunch. Give them access to company resources you have. Let them see you haven’t let them go to your head, or that you aren’t ashamed of earning them.
No leader blatantly enjoys making unpopular calls and inviting the derision of those who “lost” in the call. Tradeoffs are the hardest thing for executives to learn to do comfortably. Recognize when you are inclined to avoid, delay, or dilute a choice in an effort to not disappoint anyone. You’ll just disappoint everyone. Be clear in your rationale behind the hard choices you have to make, transparent with how the data informed your decision, and listen to the disappointment of others without feeling guilty for it. You will earn respect over time and people will learn to trust your decisions even when they don’t go their way.
The exhaustion that accompanies executive roles lead many to entitlement. “I deserve this” or “I worked hard for this” or “they don’t pay me enough, so I’ll reward myself.” This is a slippery slope. Suddenly that extra bottle of expensive wine at your “business” dinner or other forms of indulging self interest begin to expand. Just assume that EVERY choice you make will be videoed and put up on YouTube the next day. That will help you curb unhealthy self-interest.
Executives carry weighty information shared in deep confidence. From personal indiscretions to upcoming major strategic moves, executives must hold tight to stressful information. The temptation to share it with your own “close in” confidants can burn, but you must resist. Once you break a confidence, others will assume you do it routinely, and entrust important information to you even less.
It’s tempting to overlook mistakes or shoddy work when it’s from a friend, or former peer who now reports to you. Once you start, it’s hard to suddenly “put your foot down” when too many errors put your entire organization, and your reputation, at risk. Set high expectations for performance, especially from those others think you are giving a hall pass to. Plenty of time to show occasional mercy and grace when mistakes are made, after you’ve established that the highest levels of contribution are expected as the norm.
It’s so commonplace in the C-suite to curry favor with colleagues that nobody recognizes it for what it is: bribery. “You support me on this budget increase and I’ll back you on that new hire you want to make” feels so “reasonable” that people fail to recognize the severe dent in credibility it makes to your organization’s governance. If people assume decisions are not based on merit or what’s best for the organization, you will unleash rampant self-interest and when you get into the “meeting,” everyone will know that all of the key decisions were made behind closed doors ahead of time. Once this becomes the norm, your organization’s ability to navigate a crisis and make complex decisions is severely compromised.
Executive power affords you the opportunity to make a great difference and serve a great good. It is the currency that ensures your legacy as a leader. Don’t squander it. Plan in advance what mark you want to make on your organization, and plan for how you will steward the power that accompanies your role toward that end.
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