08 May 2018 16:54 IST

Power can be a great motivator

Being a powerful personality is not innate; much like other activities, it can be learnt

With elections round the corner in Karnataka , I wanted to focus on the issue of power in this column.

Power is a very useful tool, be it in corporates or elsewhere, but if left unchecked, can become intoxicating and eventually, derail a person’s focus. However, it can also be a great motivator, as pointed out by social psychologist David McClelland. Many of us believe that qualities required for building a path to power are innate. That is not true.

Just as people learn to speak foreign languages or play musical instruments and sports, we too can learn what personal attributes make us influencers and cultivate those qualities. And it is never too late to learn.

Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer has done pioneering research in the domain of power and published his bestselling book, Power: Why some people have it — and others don’t. In his path-breaking work, Prof Pfeffer identified the seven important personal qualities that help build power.

1. Ambition: Life in an organisation can be frustrating and irritating, and can divert our efforts and attention. Ambition — a focus on achieving power — can help people overcome the temptation to give up or give in to the irritations.

Abraham Lincoln’s patience and persistence were well-known even before he became the President of the US.

Jill Barard, who became the CEO of toy company Mattel, possessed unquenchable ambition. She often wore a bumblebee pin. The bumblebee is nature’s oddity. It shouldn’t be able to fly, but it does. She said: Every time I see that bee out of the corner of my eye, I am reminded to keep pushing for the impossible.

2. Energy: Energy can come from many sources. Inadequate nutrition, sleep, exercise and rest can diminish physical energy. It is important to build the rituals necessary for renewing this. Scheduling the time you go to bed and wake up, regulating eating habits, and taking scheduled breaks help replenish one's physical energy.

Likewise, when people are able to take more control of their emotions, they can improve the quality of their energy. They can put a positive spin on the stories they tell themselves about the events in their lives. Energy does three things to enhance the power or influence.

~ First: Energy is contagious and therefore inspires others to put in more efforts.

~ Second: Energy enables people to accomplish more things.

~ Third: People with energy are often chosen for higher responsibilities, as more energy signals a greater degree of commitment.

3. Focus: Put some dried grass out in the sun and you will notice that nothing happens, even on the hottest day. But put the dried grass under a magnifying glass and lo! The grass catches fire! Focused sun rays are much more powerful than scattered ones. The same holds good when it comes to seeking legitimate power.

There are several dimensions to focus on. One is specialising in a particular industry or domain. McKinsey & Co is a great example where partners bring in enormous and extensive knowledge of the industry they have chosen to focus on.

The second dimension is concentration on a limited set of activities or functional skills. Remember the 10,000 hours rule that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about? To become great at anything requires focus. But it usually suffers, given the amount of distractions and varied interests that people tend to have.

4. Self-knowledge: There is no learning and personal development without reflection. Some highly successful leaders have made it a habit to take notes after every significant discussion, meeting or interaction, which they refer to for reflection.

This, according to them, imprints the insights into their consciousness. Self-knowledge requires the discipline to concentrate, make notes where necessary, and think about what you are doing.

5. Confidence: In making decisions about how much power and deference to accord to others, people usually look to their behaviour for cues. Observers often associate confident behaviour with actually having power. The consequences of not being confident and sensitive apply to everyone. Being assertive and standing up for what you believe is right and ethical, demands confidence.

6. Empathy: The ability to put yourself in another’s shoes is necessary for acquiring power. Empathetically accurate perceivers are those who consistently read other people's thoughts and feelings correctly. All else being equal, they are likely to be the most tactful advisors and most effective negotiators. Most of us are gifted with empathy, but over time, our focus turns inwards.

7. Capacity to tolerate conflict: Those looking to enhance their power also need to cultivate the ability to thrive in an environment where opinions differ and conflicts arise. Conflicts are not necessarily bad. In fact, higher levels of innovations and out-of-the-box thinking happen when there is a certain degree of conflict.

In our quest to enhance our power and the impact we create on organisations, the seven qualities mentioned above go a long way. It is not necessary to excel in all of them. However, taking personal stock of those qualities that require strengthening will bring about the necessary changes.