Kate is an assistant manager and a strong performer who is well trained in a very technical area that few people understand. She is a no-nonsense employee whose communication style can be abrasive at times and she is deeply trusted for her superior expertise. Because she is an expert in her field, the executive team and other colleagues h
ave to rely heavily on her for information and guidance.
Because of the trust in and strong reliance on Kate, she is perceived as a threat by the political elite within her organization and she has no idea they perceive her this way. Kate is representative of many employees who refuse to play political games at work. She is ignores the political games being played around her because she occupies herself with achieving substance over form.
Kate and her team engage in extensive research so another type of power she possesses is information power. Information power is a derivative of expert power and it refers to the power associated with a person who has information others need or want. To compound her power, Kate is dedicated to team cohesion so she takes time to build relationships and loyalties. Kate’s relationship power is threatening to the power elite because no-one truly understands the depth and breadth of her network but they do know that Kate can make things happen, or block progress. Blocking is yet another form of power and like all other forms, whether you use it for the greater good or to do harm, once it is perceived, it can be threatening to those who aspire to and those who want to protect their power.
To make matters worse, Kate’s straight shooting communication style destabilizes the power elite. They are hyper-sensitive to tones that sound condescending. You see, the office politicians want to be viewed as perfect because they feel this helps them maintain their power and control.
Whether persons have ambition for power or not, whether they define what Kate has as power or not, they perceive it but as I previously mentioned, Kate has no idea that she possesses multiple forms of power. All Kate knows is that she is constantly being attacked by the politically ambitious. Their goal is to diminish Kate’s power by actively seeking to destabilize her.
The power elite methodically attack Kate in a number of ways. The primary way they seek to do this is to take conscious steps to diminish trust in her. Firstly, they attack her information power. They stopped including Kate on technical meeting invites, and they started sending other, less qualified employees to technical conferences thinking the less qualified and less experienced representatives can comprehend the information and translate it into a productive outcome.
What the political elite does not understand is that by taking these circumventive measures they may destabilize more than trust in Kate. By keeping the expert in the dark, the expert who helps others to understand and execute their duties, they are negatively affecting the long-term performance of the team.
Kate does not understand that whether she uses her power to cause harm or to be supportive, the power elite are constantly seeking ways to maintain their respective power bases. Power can be used to help empower others and this is how Kate prefers to use it even though she is not aware this is what she is doing.
If you are unaware of the power you possess, one way to identify it is to reflect on how you are being attacked. Are persons trying to destroy your relationships? Are they leaving you out of the loop? Or are they planting negative seeds designed to brand you in a way that causes disapproval? The nature of the attack is directly connected with the type of power they perceive.
Kate has a strong work ethic and is trusted because of this and her propensity to speak the truth, even if what she says is unpopular. From Kate’s perspective, substance will always prevail so she ignores most of the attacks, viewing them as petty-minded so the voice of the office politicians who are constantly making disparaging remarks about Kate are the only voices being heard. Repetition has the effect of reinforcing a message if it remains unchallenged. Therefore, Kate’s disengaged approach has the effect of reinforcing the negative message she views as petty. In Kates mind, her work is speaking for itself, she doesn’t realize that if her voice is not being heard from her, or someone speaking on her behalf, persons preoccupied with form can succeed at diminishing her contribution using spin.
Office politicians who are preoccupied with amassing power, operate on the assumption that if someone else is succeeding, they will be overshadowed. This type of scarcity mindset is unproductive and leads to the fear that creates power dynamics.
This narrative about Kate illustrates two types of office politicians: The first type is fixated on ambition for power and doing whatever it takes to protect and amass power. The second type is non-political. They are oblivious to their power and they focus on providing quality work and superior results. They believe in integrity and honesty and view politicians as persons who do not possess these qualities so they do not aspire to develop the interpersonal skills of the politician. The skills of office politicians are neither good nor bad. The intent behind the utilization of their skills determines if the outcome is destructive or empowering. Power can be used to help or hinder, build or destroy. In order for your organization to sustain itself through its team, empowerment should be the ultimate goal. For you see, empowered employees are not only happy and more productive, happy employees interact positively with your customers, enhancing the quality of service and setting the stage for improved sales results.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.