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7 Important Personal Qualities that Build Power

In Power, Jeffrey Pfeffer states that you can “compete and even triumph in organizations of all types, large and small, public or private sector, if you understand the principles of power and are willing to use them.”

For some, power is a bad word. But, without a doubt, power does open doors and provides opportunity. Powerlessness creates its own problems—pettiness, blame, irresponsibility, hopelessness and depression.

Pfeffer takes a candid look at power. He has found that those that have obtained power possess not only the will—the drive to take on big challenges—but also the skill—the capabilities required to turn ambition into accomplishment. As part of these two fundamental personal attributes, they also possess seven essential personal qualities that help them amass organizational power and influence:

Will: The drive to take on big challenges
1. Ambition   “Organizational life can be irritating and frustrating and can divert people’s effort and attention. Ambition—a focus on achieving influence—can help people overcome the temptation to give up or to give in to the organization.”

2. Energy   Energy does three things: inspires more effort on the part of others, the long hours it permits provide an advantage in getting things accomplished, and people with energy often get promoted because hard work equates with organizational commitment and loyalty.

3. Focus   “Focus turns out to be surprisingly rare. People are often unwilling or unable to commit themselves to a specific company, industry, or job function. Particularly talented people often have many interests and many opportunities and can’t choose among them.”

Skill: The capabilities required to turn ambition into accomplishment
4. Self-Knowledge   When he asked one executive what leadership habits made him effective, he answered, “Making notes about decisions, meetings, and other interactions and reflecting on what he had done well or poorly so that he could improve his skills.”

5. Confidence   “Observers will associate confident behavior with actually having power. Coming across as confident and knowledgeable helps you build confidence.”

6. Empathy with Others   “Putting yourself in the other’s place is one of the best ways to advance your own agenda.”

7. Capacity to Tolerate Conflict   “Because most people are conflict-adverse, they avoid difficult situations and difficult people, frequently acceding to requests or changing their positions rather than paying the emotional price of standing up for themselves and their views. If you handle difficult conflict- and stress-filled situations effectively, you have an advantage over most people.”
Power has a right use and a wrong use. The time to think about power is before you get it. Seneca’s caution that those with great power should use it lightly goes in one ear and out the other if you haven’t first established your personal view of and relationship with power.

Nearly everything Pfeffer writes in Power can be taken the wrong way and applied in ways that will eventually cost you power or even derail you. Then, too, it can be applied in constructive and other-focused ways as well. If you execute these power strategies at the expense of others, you’re sowing the seeds of your own destruction. If wisdom isn’t part of your agenda, you will end up where you never intended. Unfortunately, there is very little in modern life that will serve to guide you in meaningful ways.

History is littered with lessons from those who have used power to advance selfish agendas. However, if you use it with humility, if you use it to free others to lead, you can build a lasting legacy. Humility resolves the problems posed by power. How you build it is as important as why you are building it.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:25 PM
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