Congratulations! You just got the big promotion to management. People now report to you, you have some budget and you have some decision-making authority. In short, your new role comes with power. Just like electricity, power is a very useful asset but can be dangerous if misused.
Here are 7 tips for how to use your power so you don’t abuse or lose it.
Don’t Use Power for Personal Gain.
Some potential pitfalls are easy to spot, but many are more gray than black and white. What starts as “relationship-building” with vendors can slide into contract-steering after a few too many fancy dinners. What starts as “team-building” in the office can slide into inappropriate requests outside the office. Now that you have power at work, you have to keep a firewall between your work and personal needs so you aren’t seen as using your work power for personal gain.
Don’t Play Favorites.
Now that you have power, people will ask you to use it to help them. They want a decision to go their way. They want more staff or a bigger piece of the budget. Whatever it is, you know and like some people more than others, and you may unintentionally factor that into decisions. Favoritism is a slippery slope to trouble. People not getting favoritism will notice and criticize you for it. People getting favoritism may come to expect it. Stick to the facts and merits. Whenever making a decision, think about how you would explain your decision if someone accused you of favoritism.
Know Your End Game Before You Exert Authority.
Your authority may be clear on paper, but knowing how to exercise it is more an art than an org chart science. Before you directly exert your authority in a black-and-white way—”you are going to stop that and do this”—think about what you are prepared to do if they say no (or worse, say yes to your face but then say no in their actions). Are you prepared to call them out for insubordination? Are you going to back down? Once you exert your authority in a black-and-white way, you are staking a piece of your authority on it. If you back down, you will get a reputation for being soft. If you double down, you may escalate a small problem to your boss to adjudicate, making you look bad. Exhaust your skills like persuasion and negotiation before you resort to stark authority.
Leverage Through Delegation.
I was a project manager for a chief operating officer (COO) of an organization with tens of thousands of employees spread over many departments. At the beginning of a project, the COO made it clear that I was empowered as his trusted agent to help coordinate across departments. He was using me as a leveraged way for him to exert his power on the ground in one small piece of his domain so he could continue overseeing the rest. Delegating gave the COO many benefits beyond just the ability to multitask. It let him keep perspective by staying out of the minute-by-minute fray. It left him available to resolve the few issues that had to bubble up to him. And it gave his direct reports a target (me) to criticize if they had a problem with their boss’s management.
Learn to Wield Power Indirectly.
In the middle of coordinating a crisis for the COO, one department head quit taking my calls. When I escalated to the COO, he didn’t call the department head directly as I requested. Instead, he called the security desk in the department’s headquarters building and, after identifying himself, asked them to find the department head to make sure he was OK and to connect the director to me via their radios. That department head got a message, both figuratively and literally, without the COO ever talking to him directly. Power is not an unlimited resource. The more you have to directly wield your formal authority to get things done, the less impressive your formal authority becomes. “Because I’m the boss!” will work in the short term but will become hollower the more you use it.
Don’t Rely on Power.
Power is a new tool in your career-skill tool belt. Learn to use it, but don’t forget to keep using all those other skills that have helped you succeed before you got power. If you always rely on your power to get what you want, your skills like negotiation and persuasion will wither. Lots of people out there will have more power than you, leaving you at a disadvantage if you compete on that alone. And some day you might lose your power, so you want to have other skills to fall back on.
Don’t Enjoy Power.
Power can be addictive. If you find yourself enjoying the ability to make people do what you want, you are headed down a troubling road. A person who makes people do what they want is a tyrant. A person who makes people want what they want is a leader. Now that you have power, you need to figure out which type of leader you want to be.
Editor’s note: The original version of this post appeared on LinkedIn on Oct. 22, 2015.