Life after the acquisition wasn’t going well and Alex wondered what she’d gotten herself into. She’d recently joined a company that had just purchased a small, agile competitor with superior technology systems and an established culture of transparency. When Alex came on board, she quickly realized that the parent organization understood how to leverage the technology they’d purchased. They were struggling, though, to dissect the elements of the culture they’d need to replicate to reap the full benefits of their investment. Employees from the acquired company were young and innovation minded. They were also resigning, and management had yet to figure out why.
New to the company, Alex smartly spent her first weeks asking questions and doing a lot of listening. As she gathered information and insight, she began to piece together what would need to change if the integration of these two companies was to work. In short, the issue at hand was a clash of cultures. At its core were vastly different perspectives on power, which became evident as Alex unpacked issues within her own department.
The team was composed of employees from the acquired organization and long-service employees from the parent company. Alex’s predecessor had viewed the new employees as team members who would have to adapt to established practices of the parent company. He had been running the function he headed for more than 20 years and knew the industry inside and out. As far as he was concerned, there was little the new, young group of employees had seen that he hadn’t, so when they approached him with suggestions or new ideas, he bristled. As a vice president, he felt his direction shouldn’t be questioned, especially by people with so few years of experience.
A different view of power
Alex viewed the world differently. She had stumbled in the past by relying too heavily on positional power. As a woman in an industry largely dominated by men, she learned early in her tenure as an executive that title alone would be insufficient to garner respect and followership, even if that approach was working for her male colleagues. She needed to develop a different kind of power to achieve results. It’s the kind of power that Dr. Sharon Melnick, author of In Your Power: React Less, Regain Control, Raise Others, says begins with leaders understanding their own “horizon point.” When you understand your horizon point, Melnick writes, you are clear on who you need to show up as in order to achieve desired results.
Alex was certain that her team needed an authentic leader, one who would be open-minded and curious, seeking to build community around a common purpose, rather than leaning on job title as a source of power. The approach of her predecessor had failed, as evidenced by the turnover in the department. Alex was determined not to make the same mistake.
“The leader creates the weather on the team,” says Melnick. Shaping the best environment for team success starts with you, she asserts. “There’s a difference between being in power vs. being in your power. When a leader is in their power, it raises everyone.”
According to Melnick’s research, real leaders appreciate that the ultimate objective is to use power for the good of all.
5 ways to stay in your positive power
There are some consistent practices that you can employ to stay in your power and impact others positively. Chief among them is using a daily set of questions to keep you on track. Taking just a few minutes a day to reflect on these topics can be transformative, by not only strengthening your effectiveness as a leader, but also increasing your overall well-being and centeredness:
- What is the overarching purpose I am here to achieve? Be sure the activities in which you’ll invest your time each day align with actions that will help advance your purpose. It’s easy to become engrossed in things that make you feel like you’re accomplishing a goal, but do not contribute to achieving your purpose. Beware of the seduction of “checking the box” by spending time on activities that don’t contribute to significant goals. Instead, focus on activities that are truly transformative.
- What are the outcomes I am hoping to manifest today? Taking time to break down large goals into bite sized pieces allows you to pace your progress over time. Measure the small wins you accomplish each day that help lead to larger achievements over time.
- How do I need to show up for others to get these results? As a leader, you get results through others. Determine what specific members of your team need from you to support their success. Ask questions about their progress and make it safe for them to share where they are stumbling or stuck and need your help.
- What needs to shift in the environment I create to allow others to be more successful? You are responsible for the culture your team inhabits. Keep a pulse check on the quality of your culture and look for signs that team members support one another, work together effectively and include one another in formal and informal networks of communication. A healthy culture is naturally inclusive and grounded in shared goals.
- Where do I need to demonstrate more authenticity in my interactions and communications? Real power always begins and ends with you, so examine how authentically you behave each day. Evaluate the degree to which you have been willing to be vulnerable with your team and show up as your true self. When you’re firmly positioned at your horizon point, you are the most authentic. You’re comfortable sharing what you know and don’t know. You welcome pursing answers to questions as a team and are certain that together you’ll arrive at better solutions. Most of all, being authentic engenders trust. Your team knows who you are, what you believe in and that you’re a leader they can rely upon.
Strong, effective leadership requires vigilance, a commitment to constant self-examination and improvement and an appreciation for your larger impact on others. Scheduling a daily practice of reflection and journaling on your own use of power is an important place to start.
This article was first published in SmartBrief, November 2022.