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Power is a word that is not often used in general management terms, and for good reason. From an organizational perspective, authority is something that is conferred on someone by virtue of their position. Let’s take a management position for example. You have been promoted to Manger of Accounts and thus, are given a new position description. Your description clearly states that you now have the ability to direct the actions of your subordinates – authority has been delegated to you. The issue arises when managers use that new-found authority in inappropriate ways. This results in the use of power – the inappropriate use of the authority that has been delegated. This can mean anything from requiring work to be done in inappropriate ways, requiring instead of requesting overtime, or at an extreme, demanding unethical or inappropriate behaviour – even despite concerns or resistance from subordinates.

The Typical Power Play 

1. Setting Context and Boundaries

This is a version of this, which I call the managerial power play, which happens more frequently than one might think. Managers often delegate tasks to subordinates, who then may express concerns about being able to deliver the results in the expected timeframe. Power is revealed when the manager discounts what they’ve heard, saying, “I’m the boss, this is your priority, get it done.”

From a manager’s perspective, it is easy to abuse power because what needs to be done is often very important to them and they want it done quickly. However, the power approach is always the wrong approach. It can blur a manager’s judgment when it comes to delegating work appropriately, it will damage the manager-subordinate relationship, and it will have a negative impact on the organization in the long term.

2. Towards a Two-Way Exchange

When the delegation is first being made, it’s often more time consuming, and in some ways, more difficult for a manager to negotiate with a subordinate. But this is precisely the time for the conversation to focus on identifying the key factors for efficient and effective work practices. A two-way exchange needs to take place between a manager and their subordinates in order to identify the best solution going forward.

3. Negotiation Yields Better Results

Negotiation in itself is work, having an open conversation about the balance and interchange of how work will be delegated – but it is essential for more productive and positive results. What’s the point of running a business if you’re not going to integrate ideas, solutions, and reach a solid agreement amongst those in your organization? For one thing, employee motivation increases when subordinates have more input into the process. Secondly, managers who negotiate work terms have the opportunity to make their own trade-off decisions. In other words, by giving a subordinate no options – “Here’s the work, get it done” – the subordinate themselves is tasked with making work trade-offs. In most cases, these trade-offs are not consistent with those that a manager would likely make.

Certainly managers must have authority – it is a critical aspect of management. How managers use this authority is of critical importance to organizational success. Fair, equitable outcomes require a two-way exchange, or negotiation process, allowing all factors to be taken into consideration before making a decision.

About the Author

With over 40 years of experience in a variety of industries, Dwight Mihalicz, founder of Effective Managers Inc., has helped local, national, and international organizations achieve greater productivity, efficiency, and organizational performance. Dwight earned an MBA from the University of Ottawa, where he also recently served as the Director of the Dean’s Advisory Board at the Telfer School of Management and Director of the Advisory Board for the Centre for Global and Community Engagement. He is currently on Board of CMC-Global, of which CMC-Canada is one of its 48 members. To learn more about Dwight’s work, visit: http://www.effectivemanagers.com/