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The Right Use of Management Power

Protection, Direction and Order

Having the power to tell people what to do can be dangerous.  Ten leaders took up this topic to share their experiences and ideas on using their power to do good. 

Kathy Blumenfeld, Secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions set up the discussion by telling several of her own stories.  We then launched into a facilitated discussion of three provocative questions.  To protect the participants’ privacy, we do not attribute ideas. 

Topic:  The moral use of managerial power

Discussion questions

  • When did you learn about managerial power?
  • When is it appropriate for a manager to assert their power?
  • What personal characteristics let managers use their power appropriately?

Best practices

When did you learn about managerial power?

  • Several participants said their parents set good examples
  • In family businesses, the first bosses are the parents
  • Most participants said they’d had bullies as managers who set counterexamples
  • One joked about needing shin guards—because they were kicked under the table
  • When realized that, as a new supervisor, I was responsible for someone else’s work
  • When employee says they feel they’re being used well.
  • An early mistake was using power to “grab headlines” and pound the table
  • Most were surprised how, upon promotion, former colleagues stopped being direct
  • All said that they were surprised how people took their rough ideas as gospel

When is it appropriate for a manager to assert their power?

  • Power should only be used to force action if time and circumstance require it
  • Power should be used to set goals, boundaries and culture—not to dictate
  • To say “no” to ideas that don’t fit the plan
  • To be bold in setting a goal, plan or vision
  • To provide clarity, i.e., when there’s clear consensus on a fact or decision
  • A manager should always be able to describe their rationale, not “Because I said so.”
  • CEOs are often tested on how resolute they are, so need to assert principles and consistency
  • Deciding what information to share
  • To address unethical behavior or substantial deviations from values
  • One should use power to delegate power

What personal characteristics let managers use their power appropriately?

  • See Code of Managerial Power:  Awareness, Introspection, Appropriateness, Intention
  • To have the self-awareness to be authentic.  People immediately sense falsity
  • Able to listen and observe, to listen to all sides
  • Positivity and optimism
  • Restraint:  i.e., avoiding temptation to use power to override discussion
  • Humility, particularly to maintain an honest feedback loop from staff
  • It’s essential to avoid seeming like you have favorites among the staff
  • To want to serve, e.g., Servant Leadership.  To think of management as a helping profession
  • To see leadership (and management) as a responsibility, not a position
  • The ability to communicate clearly

Next topic

The participants chose as the next Intensive’s topic question, “How can a leader keep their message clear?”  If you’re a chief executive and would like to try one of these Intensives, contact us at info@theindex.net.

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The Center for Management Terms & Practices is the standards body for general management. CEOs can delegate with confidence if managers in every department use the same best practices, language and tools. See The GMs Index and The GMs Toolkit.

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