Power and control in the workplace

Young king businessman representation of power and control in the workplace conceptDo your employees hold the power or do you?

In my last blog I wrote about fear in the workplace, the all-encompassing fear that holds so many of us back. This time I turn my attention to something else that can leave us frozen and incapable of action … power. Of course power, when used for ill, often instils fear in others so the two blogs are very much linked.

A friend was telling me about an employee of hers who is a slippery fish, always got an excuse, never where he says he’s going to be, never doing what’s he’s supposed to be doing, but always, somehow, manages to maintain the upper hand when challenged:

  • “Are you accusing me of lying?”
  • “Can you prove I wasn’t at that client?”
  • “Is this the way you treat loyal people?”
  • “If you treat me like this I’ll leave”
  • “You’ll regret it if I go as I’ll take the clients with me”
  • “I’d hit my targets if you stopped micro managing me”
  • “If you dismiss me, I’ll sue you”
  • “I think you’re bullying me”

During my 22 years of running a business, I have often been surprised how people think you are fearless and all powerful just because you have the title of Managing Director. No title though, whether HR Director, Opps Manager, Supervisor, CEO, Finance Director means that you are immune from fear and that threats and conflict just roll off your shoulders. Quite the reverse at times in my experience so, when a badly behaving employee wields power and threatens conflict, chaos and mayhem it is not surprising that those who in theory have the power, often step back from managing them.

But no business can survive if power is yielded to its employees. Even in a collaborative business, ultimately someone must make the tough decisions, set standards and lead the way. The leader must have the power otherwise the whole enterprise will fall apart.

So, what can you do if one or a group of employees have taken your power from you?

I myself was once threatened in my own business. Three great employees all said that if I backed another employee who had accused them of bullying her, all three would resign and my business wouldn’t survive. And that threat did stop me from doing what I needed to do. For a while. But in due course I realised that I simply couldn’t allow others to take my power, especially when they had no vested interest in the success of the business. It was just about their ego and power. But it’s amazing how people can bully their way to what they want, all whilst accusing someone else of being a bully.

Eventually I took the decisions I needed to and my business did suffer when they all resigned. But the blow was not a fatal one. I survived, my business survived. And so will many of your businesses or departments if you find the courage to tackle those who are taking your power from you. In fact, I can guarantee that not only will you have survived but it will feel like one of the most liberating things you have done.

But aside from courage, what else can you do to take back the power you have yielded to others? Ever heard the expression ‘knowledge is power’?

Over the years one of the most powerful courses for managers we’ve delivered at Jaluch has been ‘employment law essentials’. It’s a fun day full of games and quizzes but most of all it teaches managers what employees’ rights really are – as opposed to what employees often say they are. It teaches managers what they can and cannot do, or can and cannot say and so gives them back the power that too many employees have taken from them by threatening grievances, legal action, bullying etc. I love delivering that course and seeing managers realise that they do have power and that they can manage staff as they want and need to.

So face your fears and develop your knowledge! Develop your knowledge about your rights as a director or manager, about the law, about people, about fear, about motivation, about business, about language that yields or wields power, about body language that signals power and confidence, in fact develop your knowledge about pretty much everything you can lay your hands on to learn from and then … take back the power!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please do share.

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