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A Note from Linda ...

Tales of power plays within organizations have been around for a long time. For many executives exercising power is an uncomfortable strategy and viewed as negative. But being politically savvy is not always about being destructive and unethical.

In actuality, knowing how to use your power is one skill everyone wishes they had- but no one really talks about it. Until recently little was written about how to use office politics to build one's career or to boost the company's bottom line.

Sometimes good ideas fall flat because leaders don't have the skills to persuade key people to "buy in" to their vision. We can have the best of intentions but without applying political competencies we're unlikely to make things happen.

In today's article you'll learn why leaders must flex their power to achieve their goals.

Best regards,

Linda Yaffe
Certified Executive Coach

"Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowering in itself."

-- Gloria Steinem-


Leadership Power

Successful leaders must use power, political savvy and persuasion to bring their ideas to fruition.

Many executives, however, are uncomfortable with power or office politics, viewing them as the dark side of workplace behavior. They believe job satisfaction, morale and commitment erode when politics dominate the environment.

But research clearly shows that being politically savvy and building a power base pay off.

Sources of Power

There are three sources of power in an organization: positional, relational and personal:

  1. Positional power: Your title and job status confer some level of formal power.

  2. Relationships: Informal power stems from the relationships and alliances you form with others. If you do a favor for someone, the law of reciprocity impacts your relationship.

  3. Personal: Some people generate power based on their knowledge, expertise, technical competencies and ability to articulate ideas or a vision that others will follow. Your communication skills, charisma and trustworthiness help determine your personal power.

Open Influence

Executives and managers who are open to peers' and subordinates' input garner greater respect than those who resist others' influence. An openness to influence demonstrates trust and respect, which become reciprocal and contagious.

You can offer goods and services to a potential ally in exchange for cooperation: technical assistance, information, lease of space or equipment, a plum assignment and the like. Understand what others want or value.

Avoiding Power

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and author of Power: Why Some People Have It—And Others Don’t, cites three barriers that cause executives to shy away from using power to extend their influence.

  1. The belief that the world is a just place: If you do a good job and behave appropriately, do you assume things will take care of themselves? When others make self-aggrandizing, envelope-pushing power plays, do you dismiss them instead of watching to see if you can learn something?

    Believing in a just world makes you less powerful by:
    1. Limiting your willingness to learn from all situations and people — even those you don't like or respect

    2. Anesthetizing you to the need to proactively build a power base — an outcome that blinds you to potentially career-damaging landmines

  2. Leadership literature and popular business books: Many successful authors will tout their careers as models to emulate, but they'll often gloss over the power plays they've used to get to the top.

  3. Your delicate self-esteem: Any experience of failure puts their self-esteem at risk. If you fail to actively seek and gain power, you won't view your lack of it a personal failure — a phenomenon known as "self-handicapping."

The Power of Power

When you need others to give their best efforts in the face of differing ideas and opinions, you need leverage — and powerful people use several strategies to advance their agendas.

1. Leverage Resources.

Whenever you have discretionary control over resources — money, equipment, space and/or information — you can use them to build a power base.

Helping people evokes reciprocity, a universal drive to want to repay a favor — even without making it explicit that there's a quid pro quo.

Money is not the sole source of leverage. Access to information or key people can be even more valuable.

2. Shape Behaviors with Rewards and Punishments.

In international companies and governments, leaders reward those who help them and punish those who stand in their way. You may disagree with this approach, but it remains an important tool for building a power base.

Leaders who effectively wield influence make it clear that subordinates will reap rewards if they help and problems if they refuse to pitch in.

3. Make the Vision Compelling.

It's easier to exercise power when you're aligned with a compelling, socially valuable objective. Similarly, power struggles inside companies seldom revolve around blatant self-interest. At the moment of crisis and decision, clever combatants typically invoke shareholders' interests, company values and mission, and causes greater than short-term or personal interests.


Persuasion has four elements:

1. Credibility: Credibility is built on trust and expertise, and it must be earned. People will believe you have expertise and are worthy of their trust if you exercise sound judgment and demonstrate a history of success.

2. An understanding of the audience: Identify the decision makers and centers of influence. Determine their likely receptivity and personal agendas.

3. A solid argument: What is perfectly sensible to you may elude others — especially those who are already opposed to your ideas and prepared to resist.

You can improve your chances of persuading them when your case:

  1. Is logical and consistent with facts and experience
  2. Strikes an emotional cord
  3. Favorably addresses the interests of the parties you hope to persuade
  4. Neutralizes competing alternatives
  5. Recognizes and deals with the politics of the situation
  6. Comes with endorsements from objective and authoritative third parties

4. Effective communication: Don't mistakenly think that logic and rationality will win out and persuade people to your side. Effective communication appeals to people's emotions, tapping into universal human values and desires. Appeal to both hearts and minds.

Office Politics

To become politically savvy and build your power base:

1. Map the political terrain. Identify all stakeholders and how they will react. Recognize that some resistance is inevitable.

2. Get them on your side. Build your coalition — a politically mobilized group committed to implementing your idea because doing so will generate valued benefits.

3. Make things happen through leverage. You must win others' buy-in by making it clear there's a payoff for supporting your efforts and drawbacks for refusing to join your coalition.

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WorkingMatters' principal, Linda Yaffe, a Leadership Development and Certified Executive Coach, uses her senior and executive level management experience to help you achieve your business and career goals.

Whether you are jump-starting a business, advancing your career, an executive or president, Linda’s coaching expertise will provide you with the essential focus, skills and behaviors needed to perform, advance and lead in today’s business environment.

As well, Linda works closely with companies like yours focused on "high potential grooming and leadership performance enhancement" geared toward your top talent and next generation of leaders.

Linda delivers bottom-line benefits to individuals and organizations focused on moving to the highest levels of learning, performance and achievement.

In addition to coaching, Linda delivers Leadership Workshops to small and large businesses.

Linda abides by the strict code of confidentiality and adheres to the highest standard of ethics in accordance with the International Coach Federation.

For more information, please contact Linda by email at


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