April 30, 2018

3 ways to build your power at work (without alienating your coworkers)

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on May 13, 2020.

    In today's corporate world, employees are often held accountable for the performance of colleagues they don't directly manage. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger lays out three ways you can gain power—even when your organizational chart gives you none.

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    1. 'Networking' isn't a dirty word (but you have to do it right)

    Networking sometimes gets a bad reputation, in part because so many people do it badly. For instance, some people brag about past accomplishments in an effort to get others to like and trust them—but that is "almost a death knell for credibility," according to a 2017 study of effective networkers.

    The study, which examined 20 employers and 160 managers, found that people who build effective networks share key traits. They ask their coworkers a lot of questions, respect their coworkers' roles and accomplishments, and actively seek out opportunities to help with projects they find exciting.

    "These people create enthusiasm in the networks around them," according to Robert Cross, co-author of the study and a professor of global leadership at Babson College in Massachusetts. That gives them social power within a company and makes colleagues more likely to offer them new opportunities in the future.

    Companies increasingly are teaching their employees to approach networking in a thoughtful way, Shellenbarger writes. Workday is launching a one-day workshop that teaches new hires how to build strong internal networks, while the employee-engagement company Limeade encourages employees to start "affinity groups" based around common interests.

    2. Do the job nobody else wants to do

    According to Jay Bower, the president of Crossbow Group, a marketing-services firm in Connecticut, another way to gain power in the workplace is to "look for the thing nobody knows how to do or wants to do, jump in with both feet, and do whatever it takes to solve the problem."

    That's exactly what Bower did when he began his career as a marketing analyst at a retailing company, Shellenbarger writes. He discovered that the CEO desperately wanted an analysis of a popular new program, but the company lacked the staff to create it.

    Bower decided he'd give it a try, even though he initially lacked the necessary skills. He reached out to the company's head of information systems, who agreed to offer some basic training, and worked long hours to finish the task.

    When it was done, he was careful to give all the credit to his superiors to avoid stepping on any toes. The CEO was ecstatic, and Bower received three promotions under four years.

    3. Learn charisma. (Yes, that's possible.)

    According to Ora Shtull, an executive coach in New York City, charisma simply means "showing up as the best version of ourselves for the people around us"—and Shtull emphasizes that it's a learned behavior.

    Loan Mansy, a chemical engineer, was a client of Shtull's who once thought that gaining respect at work meant being assertive with her own opinions: "Everything was about me and what I thought," she said.

    But over time, Mansy learned that she could display greater charisma, and ultimately gain more power, by displaying genuine interest in people around her: focusing on others, showing empathy, asking questions, and listening.

    Since then, Mansy has rapidly climbed the corporate ladder, becoming area president of a waste-management company (Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal, 3/6).

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