Author Topic: Talk to me about power  (Read 3370 times)

milliemchi

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 316
Talk to me about power
« on: February 24, 2017, 08:20:52 PM »
Just as background, and not necessary for this thread, this is a spin off of my earlier thread on early management experiences in adverse conditions:
http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/how-shocked-should-i-be/msg1048221/#msg1048221
Things have been developing lately, and I'll post an update when the dust settles. In the meantime...

I spent the last few months figuring out what I can and cannot legitimately ask of my employees and feeling out what the bosses above me want me to do and where to push. We spent a lot of time discussing strategy for bringing order to the unit, where the employees (one in particular) think they have more power than they truly do, creating friction. It's up to me to implement the steps, and now I've come into a position where I have to exert the management powers in a negative way: making unpopular requests, writing people up, and the like. I never had to work with others in a negative relationship (lucky, yes) and now I find myself aware of the need to embrace my power. It's a little bit like waking up with a superpower and wondering "what do I do with this and how and why?" Or finding yourself holding a big-ass power tool and wondering "how do I make sure I don't break anything with this when I've never used it before?" I do feel a bit uncomfortable being in an asymmetric power relationship with people. On the rational level, I know that I have to embrace it because that's my job now, but on the irrational/emotional level, it's uncharted territory. I feel like I need a dialog with myself, and I'm hoping to get some guidance here.

Please tell me of your experiences of coming into power, at work primarily, but I would love to hear about such experiences in general. What surprised you? What did you find out about yourself? Was it hard to accept the power? Did you have moral dilemmas? How did you resolve those? Are you happy with the outcome? What would you have done differently? Which emotions arose? Was it a long or a short journey? Was it a journey at all, or did it all fall in place for you immediately? Did you have a mentor? What was good/bad advice you got? How far did you have to go in exerting your power? How uncomfortable was it for you? How comfortable are you with it now? Which questions am I forgetting to ask?

Thanks.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2017, 09:46:45 PM by milliemchi »

skeptic

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 53
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2017, 10:36:02 PM »
>and now I find myself aware of the need to embrace my power

It's not really your power, it's your bosses' power.

You're just the vessel, and there's no need to overthink it.

You CAN both enforce the rules and do it with humanity and treat people with dignity. That doesn't mean you have to go easy on them or let things slide.

If you very clearly make clear what the expectations are, and what the results of following/not following will be, then monitor behavior and provide evenhanded feedback and then enforce the consequences or rewards that were stated, that's enough.

If you have moral qualms with what you are being asked to do, you can quit.

I guess the main thought from my experience is: do this "bad" stuff somewhat dispassionately. Not coldly, not with any apology, but just business.

Or to put another way: it's not as big a deal as your post seems to imply, at least in my opinion.

[I know you're asking for specific experiences... I don't want to go into details but I have some experience as a supervisor, but I don't have huge takeaways to share other than it's just another job. I've certainly been guilty of trying to help people do a job better when I should have just moved them on to something else or let them go because they weren't suited for it and weren't going to learn, and I wasted lots of my time and others' time (and clients' patience) trying to train them up.]


milliemchi

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 316
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2017, 07:21:48 AM »
It's not really your power, it's your bosses' power.
Thanks. this is probably why it feels foreign to me.

Just to clarify, this is not a situation where positive management will help. We asked our hourly employee to come in at his scheduled hours, and he said that the University policy does not apply to him, and that his lawyer is looking into it. This cannot end well. Plus, he's making it personal, and attacking me specifically, not understanding that this idea comes from above.

ETA: ...cannot end well for him.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2017, 01:05:40 PM by milliemchi »

mxt0133

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1546
  • Location: San Francisco
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2017, 08:25:00 AM »
I call BS on the lawyer looking into it.

What type of employee is the individual?  They might have delusions of what an employee is.  Confirm things with HR and if things don't improve let the individual go with cause and find someone else.

Hargrove

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 706
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2017, 08:32:50 AM »
Please tell me of your experiences of coming into power, at work primarily, but I would love to hear about such experiences in general. What surprised you? What did you find out about yourself? Was it hard to accept the power? Did you have moral dilemmas? How did you resolve those? Are you happy with the outcome? What would you have done differently? Which emotions arose? Was it a long or a short journey? Was it a journey at all, or did it all fall in place for you immediately? Did you have a mentor? What was good/bad advice you got? How far did you have to go in exerting your power? How uncomfortable was it for you? How comfortable are you with it now? Which questions am I forgetting to ask?

I went from entry-level to top management at a company in only a few years. There are advantages and disadvantages. People who remember being friendly with you before promotion are more likely to respond to simple requests, and less likely to respond to do this or I hit you with Power™! type requests. This is true of other promotions, but you will see that people who have to suddenly listen to you will behave a bit more formally. You need to occasionally insist a little more with people who generally get it but didn't do a thing, and otherwise you're set there. In environments where you're the new guy, you're walking a line between "Great, idiot new guy wants to pee on his territory boundary by changing things for no reason" and "Great, I don't have to do anything idiot new guy says because he won't do anything, and my way was always the right way."

With the Troublemaker Leader, you have to be fair. Even canning him can lead to morale or leadership problems. Give him at least one or two opportunities to turn his boat around by having a stern conversation with him. Don't just walk in and write him up the first time. If possible, identify if his talents would be better used in something he's not currently doing (if what he's doing is the problem he's creating trouble over), and if that has value to the company. Do not warn him repeatedly there will be consequences and then fail to have any. Do not shame him publicly to make a point - that's toxic-level authoritarian and will destroy your morale. But fire him if he won't get on board, because the crap he gets away with will become the crap everyone else expects to be able to get away with. If you do not have hiring and firing authority and Troublemaker Leader knows this, you're basically toast, and he will frame every interaction with you as if you were just a camera for the bosses until the bosses do something. If they don't already know what to do, you are going to have a very rough time of it.

There are very few moral dilemmas. You're not a social worker. I fired a fresh ex-soldier who didn't show up for work on time (or even usually), who didn't really seem to know what she wanted. Your job isn't to take care of people, it's to make the company run well and take care of those who contribute to that. That's not the same as "be ruthless" - just know the decision to be a philanthropic company or reach out to the community or give to charity or hire folks in need is not made on the floor in an instant. You have a duty that may be occasionally at odds with "be nice," but don't be a dick either. You should know under what conditions discipline is necessary and execute your job regarding them without concern to whether you like the people you supervise. The very moment they know there's no consequence for ignoring you, or that someone is a favorite beyond reproach, you're finished in management without very unpleasant corrections. The reverse should be true: you should never be happy with using the discipline stick. I never enjoyed firing anyone. But you can't afford to hesitate to enforce clear rules. Power isn't a sweet ride. It's a difficult responsibility.

Don't forget not to let it go to your head. Once I walked past a mess, grabbed a nearby broom and dustpan, and swept it up. Not one but two people remarked in surprize that they had never seen a manager do that, which is sad, but if you're always willing to show you're there to get to the finish line as a team, and no one feels like you're just playing a game of point-at-person-point-at-task, you'll be fine.

thd7t

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1213
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2017, 09:02:26 AM »
You work for a University? That's great news for you! The employee will have a contract and HR will have policies. In the meantime, you need to document any personal attacks. The odds are that University policy does apply and thy will go to bat for you if you can demonstrate a negative work environment, because if they don't, they are at risk of yu having a greivance.

Learner

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 92
  • Location: Kingston, Ontario
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2017, 12:54:25 AM »
Depending on the topic, especially if you anticipate trouble, it may be beneficial to have another member of your leadership team with you.  Not sure of your structure, but that might mean a supervisor between the two of you, or a peer manager.

The purpose of the extra person is largely as a witness.  Depending on the details of the incident(s), the extra person may be able to provide reinforcing fires as well.

In regards to use of authority, you can ask nicely, but if you get push-back you have the option of wielding the stick or pushing to find why.  It sounds like this probably isn't the case in your situation, but misunderstood priorities is a pretty common root cause in my experience.

Axecleaver

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3395
  • Location: New York
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2017, 08:00:43 AM »
I remember your post from about a year ago. At the time, the consensus seemed to be, "manage out your problem employee, paying careful attention to the HR rules in place, because Universities are remarkably bureaucratic institutions, and you need to follow the rules." Seems like things have not really changed for you in that time.

Please read up on French and Raven's Five Bases of Power (There are actually six: Raven added Informational power in a later paper.)

You're asking about coercive power. It is "the stick" in the "carrot and stick" method of management. When people who follow the rules get carrots, and people who don't get the stick - every time, and without fail, as predictably as death and taxes - then you reinforce your power and will find it easier to manage.

My advice today is the same as a year ago: meet with HR, find out what the rules are for firing your problem employee, and follow them to the letter. Your failure to achieve this has undermined what little power you had, and is demonstrating to the other folks in your department that there are no consequences for bad behavior. They are asking themselves why they are suckers for following the rules when there are no consequences. The bad apples spoil the barrel; get rid of him as soon as possible, and you'll see an immediate increase in departmental performance.

The good news is that it's not too late to turn things around. Good luck!

milliemchi

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 316
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2017, 10:25:45 AM »
I am not at the same spot I was a year ago. Partly because of the help I got on this forum, partly because of other sources of info/wisdom, and partly simply by the virtue of doing the job and getting more experience, I know what to do, and I'm doing it. Things are moving. Since the beginning of the year, I am in constant contact with Big Boss, and semi-constant with our HR representative, just because things are coming to a head. So far, both our problem employees have reached the written warning level on the verbal/written/final/dismissal ladder, and based on the bizarre meeting I had with one of them Friday, he's either going to get a final warning, or get fired. He already has a lawyer, so he's aware of where this is going. The other one barely escaped a final warning due to a glitch in our IT services, long story, but he's on notice. He later f-ed up something technically, and that may result in the final warning anyway. We're waiting for the results of the investigation. So, things are moving, albeit slowly.

The "embrace your power" part of the question came from the moment where I realized that I have to put some reinforcement around my spine, and take things through their logical conclusion. However, as a lot of you have noted, it is importanta to not let it get to your head, and to know where the limits are and respect them. To me, finding out just how much reinforcement is needed was a bit of a personal journey as much as a professional one, and I wanted to hear other's stories.

The "moral dilemma" part of the question comes from the fact that part of me will derive joy from seeing our (bigger) problem guy go. The guy is in his late fifties, has a disabled wife at home, and when fired, will have bad reviews - it's just really bad for him. He is the one who should have worried about that, but it's still painful for me to inflict injury to another. And yet, I will celebrate when he's gone. Hence, moral confusion, and I wanted to hear others' stories.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2017, 08:21:22 AM by milliemchi »

milliemchi

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 316
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2017, 10:29:06 AM »
I was waiting to post an update on the other thread when things settle a bit, but they're just getting more intense. Perhaps I should post an update anyway, if I find some time today.

GuitarStv

  • Senior Mustachian
  • ********
  • Posts: 12291
  • Age: 37
  • Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2017, 10:49:01 AM »
Once I walked past a mess, grabbed a nearby broom and dustpan, and swept it up. Not one but two people remarked in surprize that they had never seen a manager do that, which is sad, but if you're always willing to show you're there to get to the finish line as a team, and no one feels like you're just playing a game of point-at-person-point-at-task, you'll be fine.

This comment stuck out to me a bit.

I get what you're saying, and kinda agree with your sentiment . . . but I'd be a little upset with you if I was your supervisor.  You stopped doing management activities to perform janitorial work.  Are you so under-worked that that was really a good use of your time?  Did the company get good value paying you a manager's salary to perform a minimum wage job?

There is a reason that two people showed surprise at seeing a manager perform that task.

Hargrove

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 706
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2017, 12:58:24 PM »
The surprize was not based on the sense that this foolish manager was not doing his actual job, it was based on the fact that many managers act as if most work is beneath them. The anecdote I relayed there concerned a task of about a single minute. I would agree with you if I were cleaning a warehouse floor for half an hour or more (instead of my other job, or as if I had no other job), but I was talking about a simple touch up of approximately a minute, not "janitorial work."

The return on morale was overwhelmingly worth the minute, and morale was within my purview as a manager as well.

marty998

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5827
  • Location: Sydney, Oz
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2017, 01:22:56 PM »
Once I walked past a mess, grabbed a nearby broom and dustpan, and swept it up. Not one but two people remarked in surprize that they had never seen a manager do that, which is sad, but if you're always willing to show you're there to get to the finish line as a team, and no one feels like you're just playing a game of point-at-person-point-at-task, you'll be fine.

This comment stuck out to me a bit.

I get what you're saying, and kinda agree with your sentiment . . . but I'd be a little upset with you if I was your supervisor.  You stopped doing management activities to perform janitorial work.  Are you so under-worked that that was really a good use of your time?  Did the company get good value paying you a manager's salary to perform a minimum wage job?

There is a reason that two people showed surprise at seeing a manager perform that task.

Sometimes when your team is on leave, or you're between hires and the new guy/girl hasn't started yet you have to do these things.

I work in an office where kitchen duties are shared between 20 different teams. Every time it is my turn I always pitch in.

The example you set is the example your staff live up to. Actions are much more powerful than words.

obstinate

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 849
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2017, 11:23:19 PM »
Once I walked past a mess, grabbed a nearby broom and dustpan, and swept it up. Not one but two people remarked in surprize that they had never seen a manager do that, which is sad, but if you're always willing to show you're there to get to the finish line as a team, and no one feels like you're just playing a game of point-at-person-point-at-task, you'll be fine.

This comment stuck out to me a bit.

I get what you're saying, and kinda agree with your sentiment . . . but I'd be a little upset with you if I was your supervisor.  You stopped doing management activities to perform janitorial work.  Are you so under-worked that that was really a good use of your time?  Did the company get good value paying you a manager's salary to perform a minimum wage job?

There is a reason that two people showed surprise at seeing a manager perform that task.
Generally speaking, people in salaried positions are not physically busy with their work all of the time. Much of the work is cerebral and doesn't require any particular physical posture to do. Also, salaried positions do not have particular hours to work, so he's not necessarily taking away from his on the job hours by doing this little task.

Tl;dr: if I swept up, and you were my manager, and you got pissed at me for sweeping up, I'd think less of you.

LadyStache in Baja

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 705
    • My Casa Caoba: Making meaning in Mexico
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #14 on: February 27, 2017, 06:54:35 AM »
Reading "Its ok to be the boss" helped me a bit.  As far as moral conundrums go, remember that by doing this bad thing to this one person, you're helping everyone else a LOT.  They will feel happier at work everyday, more appreciated and valued.  Everyone is happiest when they know what's expected of them, so by being clear about your expectations (as you're doing), you'll make everyone's lives better.

milliemchi

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 316
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #15 on: February 27, 2017, 08:27:29 AM »
Quote
Generally speaking, people in salaried positions are not physically busy with their work all of the time. Much of the work is cerebral and doesn't require any particular physical posture to do. Also, salaried positions do not have particular hours to work, so he's not necessarily taking away from his on the job hours by doing this little task.

Tl;dr: if I swept up, and you were my manager, and you got pissed at me for sweeping up, I'd think less of you.

And sometimes one just needs to break up the long day of mental/managerial work. I derive great joy from setting up the coffee supplies in our break room. Points with the staff are extra.

milliemchi

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 316
Re: Talk to me about power
« Reply #16 on: March 02, 2017, 03:48:23 PM »
I got it... It just takes time to adjust to the new identity (more power). It's a process, don't overthink, give it time, etc.  It was helpful to see that it was a non-issue for those who responded, it helped me be done with it. Thanks all.