According to the American Psychological Association, a feeling of powerlessness is a universal cause of work-related stress. Too much responsibility coupled with too little authority is often a recipe for powerlessness’s cousins: helplessness and hopelessness. How, then, do you counteract external factors that you have little control over and regain power and influence at work? In a Harvard Business Review piece entitled, “How Experts Gain Influence,” Anette Mikes, Matthew Hall, and Yuval Millo propose four competencies everyone can develop to expand their power and influence within their organization.
The process of finding new opportunities to use their expertise is sometimes daunting to a person who feels they lack true influence. In reality, the process of looking for ways your talents can be useful to an organization positions you to take advantage of those opportunities when managers are ready to take action. Let’s say you are a chocolatier at a candy company. Using your expertise, you find a way to repurpose leftover chocolate at the end of the production process into another product that can be sold at the retail outlet. Once you bring the idea to the attention of your manager, you are then given the opportunity to head up the development of this new product. Trailblazers are constantly scanning their environments for ways they can help their businesses improve.
Identifying an existing problem or opportunity is only the first step. True influencers are able to create tools that can be applied throughout the organization. Using the candy company example, once you have created the recipe for the new product, as a toolmaker, you would also develop the process the rest of the business would follow to reclaim and repurpose the leftover chocolate. Great toolmakers not only disseminate their expertise, they also ensure they are still necessary for communicating and interpreting the new system.
It is nearly impossible to have power and influence when you are flying solo. Key influencers know how to work within the structure and dynamic of a diverse team. Have you ever worked for a person who talked about teamwork, but in the end preferred to be thought of as a one-man show? True influence occurs when a person can see their own weaknesses and leverage the strength of the people around them toward a common goal. In the end, it is not about having all the talent and all the answers, it’s about knowing where to find them.
Once someone has begun to garner power and influence within their organization, they keep it by continuing to translate complex content for key decision makers. This is especially important in highly technical or regulated fields where managers are often experts in another complimentary area. In these situations, having a translator who can not only make sense of information being presented but can also translate it into actionable items is vital to progress.
What researchers have discovered is it’s not only important for a person to have one of these key competencies, it is vital for them to have multiple competencies based on their expertise and the needs of the organization. It may be possible for a person to have two competencies and wield tremendous influence within their organization. However, the best opportunity a person has for strengthening their position of power within their company is to develop all four competencies, knowing when and how to use each one appropriately. Only then can the external factors driving your feelings of helplessness be traded for power.
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