Power at Work – Who is in Charge?

by | Oct 29, 2021 | Professional Growth

Board meeting with company leaders

“Power today comes from sharing information, not withholding it”
– Keith Ferrazzi

When it comes to power in the workplace – who is in charge today?

The world of work I have grown up in has had a clear shape. I was hired into a power structure of command and control, with an image of a pyramid. A few executives set the direction, middle managers are accountable for team results, and many individuals perform their roles.

Layers of management to make sure things got done. Today, things are getting done in new ways. The pyramid is taking a new shape.

Over time, the pyramid is evolving to a new shape. The inverted pyramid has been championed by Robert Greenleaf, and others in the servant leadership movement. This new hierarchy puts the people—or employees, in a business context—at the very top and the leader at the bottom, charged with serving the employees above them.

The focus is increasingly on serving those who matter most – customers and employees. Not just in words, but in action. Sharing power and embracing collaboration. New roles and the opportunity to work independently in remote locations. Employees are appreciating new flexibility and having a greater voice in decision-making.

Power is shifting and as leaders we need to understand what is happening.

  • What if you have a leadership role and your impact is diminishing?
  • How do you add value when you have less control?
  • What is it like to be on the bottom of the pyramid when you have spent your entire career climbing the ladder to the top?

While the power and control dynamics are shifting, there are also dramatic changes underway – hiring shortages, flexible work schedules, fewer layers of management, technology innovations, and virtual working arrangements. The traditional relationship between an employee and the organization now has more uncertainty – more questions than answers.

The real question is what is this doing to the balance of power at work?

Who is in charge?

In the past we reported to, and were dependent on, a boss. Today we are expected to be more independent as we perform our duties. Managers have more direct reports and less time for individual attention. They do not need dependent direct reports

Do not bother the boss, figure it out.
The power structure is also impacted by our relationships. Many of us are reintroducing ourselves to colleagues following a year of remote work and isolation. New research reveals leaders should not expect the people who are reappearing at work to be the people we remember. Our colleagues have a new rhythm for work and life, and new expectations for how they are led and work with others.

Holly Birkett, lecturer at the University of Birmingham in England, says, “Employees are taking on more of the managerial responsibility for their work. Like the customer service experience of self-service, we are more involved and less dependent on traditional managers. We hear of self-managing teams, could self-managing individuals be far away?

The concept of sharing power is easy for me to relate to. My feedback over the years as a manager – I was good at building my credibility at a knowledgeable leader, and not very effective sharing what I knew. My intentions were fearing I would overload my team with too much information. However, I now realize that real power does come from sharing not hoarding.

There are changing expectations that come with the shifts in power.

Two keys to building an adaptive leadership style in the 2021 workplace:

Better Questions
How are you doing (support) v. what are you doing (control)
Asking what you think v. telling – this is what I think
What is getting in your way? v. here is what you need to do

Servant Leadership
Here are four steps to develop into a better servant leader.

  • Encourage diversity of thought.
  • Create a culture of trust.
  • Have an unselfish mindset.
  • Foster leadership in others.

Author Rory Vaden has a compelling message – “If serving is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you.” We all need to understand the dynamics of change underway and expand our minds to sharing and serving. Let us commit to looking up the organization to what matters most.

All My Best,