How to lead: Leverage those mutual dependencies

Leaders acquire the power to affect the behavior of others by controlling access to valued resources. But often access involves an element of reciprocity, says W. P. Carey associate professor of management Kevin Corley, who studies and teaches leadership theory and skills. “How to Lead” is a two-part podcast produced for Business to Go: knowledge and skills that you can put to work today in your business and career. Learn more: What Do They Value? Access as the Source of Power How to Lead: Discovering the Source of Power Kevin Corley in Forbes: “Innovative Thinking for Corporate Culture” Transcript: This is Business to Go -- knowledge and skills you can put to work today in your business and career -- brought to you by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Kevin Corley: Building off the previous podcast where we talked about power as the potential to influence others, when you start to dive into where that potential comes from, an “aha” moment happens when you realize that power is really about controlling access to valued resources. What’s interesting about that is you don’t actually have to possess that valued resource – you don’t even have to want it yourself. But if you control access to it, and someone else values that resource, then you hold an incredible potential to influence them, because in order to gain access to that valuable resource they have to go through you, and thus you can ask for something in return, or ask them to do something for you. This is the root of why you hear people say that the most powerful people in organizations are secretaries. Because what do they control access to? They control access to the decision makers. If you want to get in to see the vice president of finance to talk about a budget for your project, you’re going to have to go through his or her secretary, and if he or she needs you or wants you to do something, most likely you’re going to do it! Because you really want that valued access to that vice president. So start to think about this idea that power is essentially rooted in interdependencies –- how am I dependent upon you, how are you dependent on me. If I recognize interdependency before you do, I have the opportunity to take advantage of that to influence you to do something for me. If you recognize back that I am also interdependent on you, then my ability to influence you is tempered a little bit, right? I may have to allow you to influence me before I can influence you: that kind of reciprocal give and take. There’s an important insight here. The way that I like to get students to think about this is the easiest way to influence people is for them to see your position – where you are, what you want – as a means for satisfying their underlying interests. So let’s break that apart a little bit. If I want to influence you and if I can recognize how you are interdependent on me for some valued resource or access to a valued resource, then the easiest way to in influence you is to convince you that what I want will satisfy what you want. Let’s look at upwards influence. How can I influence my boss? If there’s something I need from my boss and I would like to influence her to give me that valued resource, I recognize that I’m dependent on her for something. The easiest way for me to influence her is to see how her giving me what I want actually furthers what she wants – furthers her interests. Now in order to do that, obviously, I have to understand her interests: what is it she wants out of her job? Perhaps she has a value for a resource that I have access to, or I know somebody in the organization that she doesn’t know. Or I know something about a project that’s coming up or a decision that’s been made that she doesn’t know. Or it might just be that I recognize that I’m one of her most valued employees – one of her most valued team members – and that she’s very dependent on me because her career path and how good she looks to her boss is dependent upon how well I perform. A lot of people think about that and say that’s manipulation. You could go to her and threaten not to work well if she doesn’t give you something, but that’s most likely going to backfire: that threat that I could take something away from you. Being able to find that positive spin on it, and in a positive way being able to show her ‘look, by helping me you’ll be helping yourself,’ is really, to use that word again a very powerful way to increase your potential to influence other people inside an organization. Ultimately that’s what we’re all trying to do, even at the lowest level of an organization. The more that we can influence those around us the more successful we will be, and the more successful we can be the more likely that we will move up and be recognized as someone who can achieve greater things, and therefore will be given more responsibility and will get those promotions. For the small business owner -- at least the small business owners that I know -– a lot of them immediately think about the negative, in the sense of ‘here are all of the people that I am dependent upon.’ I could not do what I am trying to do without this person who’s providing funding, and this person who’s provided access to contacts and this person who was my first client and therefore really got me going. It’s very easy to fall into that trap of thinking about who you’re dependent upon. Feeling powerful comes from recognizing how other people are dependent upon us, and not using that in a forceful way or in a political way, but using that in a way to show that there are interdependencies. I’m more than welcome to help you out if you are willing to help me out. That reciprocity of ‘I’ll provide what you want and you provide what’ I want is a much more effective way for the small business owner to go through life than ‘I’m dependent on this person, I have to do what they say if I have any hope of getting something from them in the future.’ Bring the mutual dependencies to the forefront and that will have an immediate impact on your sense of powerfulness and hopefully on your ability to actually influence other people.