Self-Assessment: Effective (& Ineffective) Approaches Power


Everybody wants power.

And most people don’t happily want to relinquish power.

For managers, that can create issues both downstream, and upstream.
Downstream, managers can have power issues with employees who resent people having power over them -see “toxic employees”-.

And upstream, they could be “toxic reports” for those up the chain in command.
Take this quiz to see if you have problems with people having power over you:

Assessing authority intolerance

Downstream and upstream you also have a second class of problems: people who seek to expand their power over others beyond the confines of what’s “fair” (“power-hungry”).
“Fair” is subjective, of course.
But effectiveness isn’t.
And power-hungry managers who overpower their employees tend to make their whole teams less effective.

This quiz will help you get an idea if you are more on the power-hungry side and if you should learn to use less coercion, and more influence.

Assessing Power-Hunger

These questions are not scored, but they will help you gain self-awareness.

1. Do you believe employees should do what you say without any questions?

This is the symptom of a personality who craves obedience, rather than intelligent input.

2. Do you often feel like anyone not following your instructions is being insubordinate?

Whenever you hear a manager using the word “insubordinate” a little bit too often, that’s a signal of a manager who craves power and obedience, rather than intelligent input.

3. Do you believe one of your most important tasks is to point out mistakes and errors?

This can be a signal of a manager who wants to feel like he’s the top dog, rather than fostering a culture and environment of continuous learning and free experimentation.

4. Do you get some kicks from scolding, enforcing procedures and having people toe the line?

This is a strong signal of power-hunger.
Having others fear you can provide you with a positive feeling. But to be a good manager -and leader- you need grow out of that need.

5. Do you prefer not asking employees about their opinions on how to do something?

This can be a signal of a general fear of being seen as “weak”.
Sometimes, some managers can lean too much on dominance and coercion not out of power hunger, but out of fear of being perceived as not strong enough.

And a second class of fear related to giving employees more latitude to bring their own ideas and solutions is more directly related to a common mindset about power hungry folks.
And that’s the mindset of “fix pie”.
Some power-hungry managers fear giving freedom because they see power as limited. If they empower others, then that means that they will have less power.

Of course, that is most often not the case.
And especially it’s not the case if you have talent in your team.
The more empowered the team you lead, the more power you also have to channel that talent, and have a bigger impact on the world.

The Authoritarian personality

All of the above can help to spot what Adorno called the “authoritarian personality”.

Adorno’s theory has been criticized, but it’s true that some people have stronger tendencies to enforce their wills and demand strong obedience.

If in your life you have always avoided strong personalities -ie.: you have submissive friends and wives-, it will be more difficult for you to give up this style as you might have the (mistaken) belief that it delivers only good results.

However, learning you must: the best people usually don’t like the most autocratic personalities. Start by asking more question and involving people in the decision making more often.

The Cure: Mindsets

General personal development is the best cure.
Especially the mindsets -see “Ultimate Power”-.

Assessing Power-Shyness

While some people use too much power, some aren’t comfortable with using power at all.

In normal life, we would call this “submissiveness” or “lack of assertiveness”.
People who lack assertiveness often tend to be “power shy”.

Here are some questions to help you find out if you could be one of them.

1. Do you have trouble telling your employees what they need to do?

The most direct way to assess power-shyness and lack of assertion.

2. Do you often take over your employees’ work?

This can be a sign that you are not demanding enough, that you are letting others operate below potential.
And that you are not assertive enough to increase your demands.

3. Do you think it’s important that employees like you?

When your need to be liked is stronger than your need to achieve results, the first victim usually are… Good results.

3.2.. Does it strongly affect you when you think employees don’t like your decisions?

A follow-up question to assess whether your need to be liked is too strong.

The Cure: Fake It Till You Make It

On the other hand of the spectrum of power-hunger there is submissiveness, an unease with enforcing decision and difficulty in instructing and reprimanding employees.

This can be a common issue for first-time manager.

The cure is to force yourself into doing it anyway.
In the beginning, you will realize most people are more compliant than you thought and that they don’t dislike you for putting your foot down when needed. As a matter of fact, they appreciate it if you were being too soft!

A tip for quicker learning: give yourself permission to make mistakes and go overboard with directness, requests, and tasking. Yes, you will make mistakes sometimes but you will also learn where the boundaries lie.
And if you still feel it was unfair, then you can simply make it up to them later on -as a matter of fact, you should-.


You’ve heard these a few times:

“business is business”, “they’re paid to be here”, and “we’re not friends here”.

They are all true, in a way, but they can also be signals of a poor leader’s attitude. It’s the general attitude towards human relationships that stand behind those words that can be corrosive.
People don’t generally like bosses who are only work-bosses and care nothing about the people.

Like it or not, the power you hold over people affects their whole lives.
A manager is also a leader, and you cannot be a leader “just at work”.
You have a bigger mandate, so to speak, and only focusing at work could also be seen as lack of responsibility, and dereliction of leadership duty.

See these questions:

1. Do you resent having to spend time with employees’ needs and problems?

This can be the sign of resenting the rule of leadership.

2. Would you rather people left their personal issues at home?

Smaller sign of the previous issue.

3. Do you prefer keeping it “strictly business”?

Another sign of wanting to limit wha

Management VS Leadership: The Emotional Distance

These can all be indicators that you prefer an emotionally distant style of management.

A bit of detachment between bosses and employees is good -submissive bosses often get too friendly without then being able to step back into the leader role-.

Unluckily though too much detachment is also not good: no, people cannot leave their issues at home. People carry their issues, emotions and feelings wherever they go because that’s what humans do.

It’s been my experience that it’s possible to be closer and yet firm when decisions are needed. This is a highly effective management style.

When a leader seeks too much distance and cares nothing about the people beyond their work, then such a person often makes for a poor manager.
And a leader who doesn’t want to take care of the team should consider whether he is fit for a leader’s position.

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