You have great managers working for you.
They have a wide range of styles and together they’re a good team. You trust them. You can confidently delgate to them and don’t feel the need to supervise their every action. You have no reason to be worried about power plays.
Or do you?
You may not be worried about your team’s power plays against you or against each other, but that doesn’t mean there are no power plays.
The dangerous power plays are the ones where someone is abusing power to gain control. And it won’t happen in plain sight. If you don’t catch these power plays early enough, your business can be jeopardized.
Here are 4 power plays you can't afford to ignore.
Your “Ordinary manager” turns arbitrary.
This is a common problem with newly promoted managers and managers who feel overlooked. When they get more power, power they think they're entitled to, watch out.
Joe was a recently promoted manager who didn't like the activities of another business unit. He always had some suspicions. As soon as he got promoted, Joe started exerting his authority. He made a unilateral decision to intervene in the other business' transactions and vendor selections.
Joe didn't have the facts and overstepped his authority, which left his company vulnerable to business interference and defamation claims.
When your “ordinary” manager starts making pronouncements and unilateral decisions, get more involved. Ask for a review of facts, and clarify your real boundaries vs invented ones.
Your "Law Enforcer" starts acting above the law.
Every team has a self appointed law enforcer, someone who likes the letter of the law. But when the law works against the law enforcer, he can start to believe he is "above the law."
A common hot spot is contracts. I worked with a strong CFO, George, who was under significant cost pressures. He keyed on budgets that had money set aside for contracts.
George viewed contracts as discretionary. When the legal department said contracts were off limits, George stopped involving them. Instead he asked the purchasing department to find loop holes. Bad move.
If your enforcer is under significant pressure, ask him what his barriers are, and what the plans are if the barriers can't be resolved. Then jointly determine who the decision maker is to reduce the risk of working out of bounds.
The "Authority" becomes threatened.
It is great to have resident authorities, but no one can know everything.
When your team's authority gets challenged by a newcomer or an outsider, you need to watch for signs of professional jealousy. I've seen it range from petty to malicious.
Samantha was a corporate attorney who started to veer out of bounds. She felt her authority was threatened by an outside consultant, so she made multiple claims against the vendor to the chief compliance officer. Samantha's boss conducted a review and determined Samantha's complaints were unfounded.
When your resident authority starts to complain about someone new, listen for facts, not opinions. Challenge them to be more open minded and to welcome outside opinions.
The "Zealot" shifts to overzealous.
We all like employees who "do what is right." They have a core value of protecting the business, but left unchecked it can turn terribly wrong.
Karen was an HR manager who took her job very seriously. Too seriously. She ignored instructions on fact finding because she "knew" in her gut the employee under investigation was hiding something. She shifted from "do what is right" to self-righteous.
Karen vigorously pursued her investigation, and when she couldn't find anything, she continued to escalate it. The investigation snowballed into a series of bigger and bigger inquiries without oversight. The outcome? Karen was wrong and her company narrowly avoided a defamation suit.
When you have a "do what it is right" manager pursuing an investigation, put in gates and dates for reviews and ensure the reviews are happening. An overzealous sense of "right" can lead to ignoring facts that would signal an objective manager to stop.
Don't get derailed by power plays.
Your leaders can commit your business to a direction that you may regret. And depending on the situation, your company can go sideways quickly.
Learn your managers' personality traits and discuss triggers that can activate power plays. Then periodically check for the symptoms. You may have a few swerves, but your business won't crash and burn.
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Photo / Man of Steel by Clement Soh, on Flickr