Part of this is because it might sound faintly absurd. We tend to associate power with great political or business leaders, not the boss you see every day on Zoom being pestered by their cat. It’s also a word which has connotations of overbearance and domination. Not management styles which are currently in vogue.
But it might also be that as managers, we don’t want to confront our actual influence. The job is hard enough as it is without thinking about all the ways we could be exerting our power (both consciously and unconsciously).
A recent article by Amy Newell, Senior Director of Engineering at Wistia, is a really useful counterpoint. Think you don’t have much power? She points out that:
“...You have some measure of direct power over the working conditions, career growth, and livelihood of everyone reporting to you (and all the folks in your reporting structure). You can promote people, you can give them raises, you can provide them with a safe, inclusive workplace, and you can offer them juicy opportunities. You can also fire them, dismiss their needs, stifle their career growth, or contribute directly or indirectly to an unsafe workplace by violating their personal boundaries or allowing others to do so. You can deploy your power responsibly, or you can pretend it isn’t there and end up using it in hurtful or irresponsible ways.”
Rather than be intimidated by this, she argues that as managers we should:
Commit to reflecting regularly on how we use it
Be polite and considerate in communication
Remember that you take up more space
Watch your boundaries, and check with others
Learn to listen to what people aren’t telling you
Actively manage the emotional burden of your responsibility
We’d maybe go even further. Whilst you should be wary of the potential negative impact of your influence, the great opportunity of management is to use your position to benefit others.
Sometimes the greatest failure of managers to appreciate their power is in the opportunity cost to their teams of their reluctance to use it to the team’s benefit, than any direct harm caused.