How to Wield Power

At Stanford, I took a class called Power & Politics. My professor said, “If you put two people in a room together, there’s politics.”

As much as I disliked the answer at the time, I’ve come to appreciate that it is true.

Politics occurs when different people with conflicting needs try to each get what they want.

It occurs in governments, companies, and families.

Power comes from multiple sources.

Traditionally, power consists of possessing decision-making authority (such as hiring/firing authority), control of resources (such as a spending budget), or unique assets (such as a well-connected professional network).

However, there’s another form of power that’s often more powerful than traditional forms of power and much easier to get.

It’s the power of... influence.

One way to be influential is to borrow power possessed by others.

Here’s a simple example.

Let’s say you’re trying to convince your CEO to do something but lack any formal authority or power to assist you. You can borrow the CEO’s power by quoting his or her own words back to him as justification for your proposal.

If the CEO stated, "Our top three priorities are 1) growing sales by 20%; 2) improving gross margins by 2%; and 3) improving customer satisfaction ratings by 10%," you can “borrow" power by using these priorities as justification for your proposals.

Perhaps you need funding for an employee training program. Figure out if the program you have in mind would contribute to one of these three areas.

When you propose the idea, don’t say, “I want funding for an employee training program.” Instead say, “I’d like to get your approval for a project to help improve gross margins.”

The trick is to borrow the CEO's (or your boss’s) words and use them as justification for your own projects. Of course, what you propose does need to be in alignment with the CEO's words. However, you frame the opportunity not in terms of what you want, but in terms of what someone with more power wants.

If you want to get a coffee station for your floor, don’t say, "I want a coffee machine." Say, "The CEO wants 20% sales growth, and a more energized salesforce that isn’t fatigued at 3 pm in the afternoon will sell more effectively."

In other words, don’t say “I want,” say, “The CEO/boss/boss’s boss wants _______” and link what you want to what someone more powerful than you wants.

This is one of several aspects of borrowing power and being politically savvy.

Learning how to acquire, borrow, and use power is one of ten modules in my program on How to Excel as a Rising Star in Industry. This program is geared towards those who want an accelerated career path working in a corporate environment. To learn more about this program, Click Here.

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