Power is important. Persuading staff to do your bidding means that you must have power over them – to order them, to make them do, particularly since they might otherwise do something else.
But how that ‘ordering’ is done is all-important because social managers enjoy greater success. For some, being a social manager comes naturally. For others it can be learned.
How managers exploit power has huge implications for companies; in manager selection, succession planning, and management development and in the functioning of management teams. The way in which managers exploit power determines the culture of the organisation – itself an antecedent for higher-level concepts like the way the organisation learns and the way staff innovate new ideas and products.
And it’s not just in big companies that issues arise in the way managers exploit power.
Managers are typically recruited for their psychological need for power. It’s common for Boards to recruit the ‘Alpha-wolf – male or female. Somehow naturally, alphas like the idea of appointing other alphas to act in their stead. They feel that someone who will ‘kick ass’ is to be trusted whereas someone who will sympathetically work with other managers and staff is somehow a higher risk.
All who might excel in management typically have a high psychological need for power.
Forms of Power
Research done over the past thirty years or so suggests that this power has two discrete forms.
Personalised power or ‘P-power’ is the need to set and meet personal goals. Those high in P-power have a need to feed their own egos. They focus on the “I” and see that they are in competition with others in a zero-sum game in which they aim to win while others lose. Those high in P-power are the ‘alphas’. For them, success breeds success and an even greater need for personal enhancement to fuel that power. For them, success is the growing fiefdom, the enlarged sphere of domination and the bigger “I”.
Socialised power or ‘S-power’, on the other hand, is the need to derive power through others and for others. It’s the desire to use power for the wider benefit. Those high in S-power tend to put the needs of their organisation above their own personal needs – something that is well established as a fundamental need of a good manager.
Teachers and nurses tend to be high in S-power. They need to command – but not for themselves alone. And women generally tend to be S-power dominant.
There’s a balance in each person. Some folk are dominant in P-power. Research has found, for example, that those high in P-power do drive huge change – but often the resulting organisation does not enjoy on-going stability. National leaders high in P-power are also more likely to take their countries to war.
Others are dominant in S-power. That’s not to say that this latter group would not take their countries to war. It’s just that they’d build a coalition, a consensus for action, rather than giving an executive order.
This balance between S-power and P-power is not a measure of competitiveness, though. Whilst women are typically higher in S-power than P-power, they are just as competitive as men. People can be both highly competitive and dominant in S-power. It’s just that in the S-power case, winning is done with others rather than over others.
So everyone has both P and S. How each person behaves depends on which is dominant.
Social Managers Enjoy Greater Success
Research over the years shows that the use of socialised power is related to effectiveness as a manager. Indeed, it also suggests the converse – that personalised-power managers have many undesirable characteristics. P-power managers are, for example, impulsive and ‘not disciplined enough to be good institution builders’ .
So for excellence in the management task, managers need to use socialised power. They need to be inclined to build alliances, networks, coalitions or teams to get things done. In turn they need self-control. They must be able to inhibit personal ego, needs and desires in favour of the needs of the organisation.
Those social managers enjoy greater success.
Turning from the Dark Side
This has major implications for both selection and development of managers.
Knowing which form of power will have the greatest effect in a given environment or scenario is a competence. In principle, competencies can be learned. Arguably, the preference for S over P and the ability to use S-power effectively is a form of crystallised intelligence, learned throughout life. Organisations developing young people to exploit S-power would therefore be wise to start early and discourage use of personalised power when appraising and coaching.
Whether someone who is low in the personality trait of empathy and high in need for personalised power can ever shun the ‘dark side’ of power is a moot point. Certainly, being trained to see the values of S-power and learning the techniques of alliance, network, coalition and team building is a start. Behaviour change will then need significant coaching to dump the narcissistic ways.
Good managers need to exploit socialised power. And they need to be selected and developed for that.
Buchana D & Badham R (1999) Power, Politics and Organisational Change: winning the turf game, Sage Pubs.
Boyatzis R E (1982) The Competent Manager: a model for effective performance, Wiley Interscience.
Robertson I (2012) The Winner Effect: the science of success and how to use it, Bloomsbury.