But power doesn’t really work that way. Most CEOs reach the top because they know how to pick the right battles to fight. And they know how to win.
Win by losing
I define politics as the judicious use of power. You have to determine the best time to push hard for what you want and when you should lay back and hold your punches.
Here’s an example. My company bid for a prize account that would have led to many growth opportunities. My best salespeople spent weeks trying to seal the deal. But we didn’t get the business.
Yet when I heard how my sales manager handled the bad news, I cheered up. When he was told that we weren’t going to get the account, he said, “I’m sorry we weren’t your first choice—can you tell me why we weren’t?”
Then he kept quiet, listened and gained some invaluable information. Finally, he said, “I see we’re not the best fit for you right now. I hope we’ll get a chance to work together in the future.”
I love that strategy. Why? We exerted power without triggering resistance. Because of our response, that company now feels comfortable dealing with us, and we’re well-positioned to cement our relationship down the line.
You could say we lost ground by not putting up a fight. We could have argued and told the company all the reasons they were downright wrong not to hire us. But that’s a losing battle.
Measure gain and loss
If you want to acquire more power at work, ask yourself these questions whenever you’re interacting with someone: If I do or say this, who gets hurt, and how badly? If I do the opposite, who gets helped, and how much?
Your actions have a ripple effect. Let’s say you’re asked to give some information to a senior executive who might use that very information against you, maybe to justify layoffs or not give bonuses or whatever. Do you give her the information? If you do, you’re complying like a good soldier. If you don’t, you may be saving your skin.
Consider the power source here. You are in the best position to suggest what information to present and how to present it. I’m not saying you should mislead someone or falsify data, only that you can offer up raw numbers and attach some intelligent explanations to back up your interpretations.
Here’s a case where you can stand out by providing some bold insights. Rather than take a wimpy, defensive stance, you can prepare some eye-opening data along with some hard-hitting analysis and then let others draw their own conclusions. That’s the most potent form of power and it’s wonderfully subtle.
Your power comes from influencing people without them knowing it. By reinforcing their power, you get more of your own.
“Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 20-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $10 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.
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