Reading Power Dynamics part 1

Geek 5, Org savvy

In Survival of the Savvy, Brandon and Seldman discuss two risk points that are especially relevant to geeks – sabotage and power dynamics. In previous posts, we covered the definition of sabotage and how to react to it. In this post, we’ll cover how to read power dynamics and some strategies for dealing with them.

Power dynamics center on who has the power and influence in your organization. Sometimes it is obvious. Official position power refers to people who are high up in the hierarchy and org chart. They have power due to their position. Even so, people with position power have different levels of effectiveness and influence. Sometimes you’ll find a leader who has the title, but functions like a lame duck, because his or her ideas are not valued. Even peers in similar roles can have different levels of influence based on their level of organizational savvy, networks, and of course, their knowledge and competence.

Unofficial influence power is less obvious, because you don’t find it on an org chart. This refers to people who have power without the title. These are people who can make things happen and are considered well-connected in the organization. Sometimes their power is based on having great ideas or a dominant personality and sometimes it is about their network. Part of becoming a politically savvy person is learning to watch and understand individual behaviors and group dynamics. You can identify people with unofficial position power by observing some of the following:

– Who is in the favored, inner circle of the boss or other power players?
– Who always seems to know everything that is going on?
– Who acts an advisor to the boss?
– Who can get away with bending the rules?
– Who can always seem to avoid blame for team issues?

Another group with unofficial influence power is the up and comers, often described as emerging leaders. These are fast-rising superstars who often have access to senior leaders through work and mentoring. High-potential superstars are often very ambitious and aggressive about their careers. Some of them will fall into the over-political bucket. Be wary of anyone who seems focused on his or her own career to the detriment of others and the company.

To effectively read power dynamics, you need to amp up your observation skills. Watch and listen with peers and bosses and teams. Think about situations from the perspective of other folks. Determine their goals and motivations and think abut how those intersect with your own goals and motivations. Watch and think!

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