How can you move yourself into a position of power?

Many of us are under the impression that we do not deserve power or that we should not go out of our way to get to higher-level positions. Instead, we keep our head down, work hard and hope that we will eventually move up the corporate ladder. However, this way of thinking is completely wrong.

The following excerpts will show that if you want to move up the greasy pole, you must work for it. They will provide tips on how you can stand out among the competition and make your way to the top.

You will learn:

  • Why, if you are a nail, standing up is best
  • How one Democrat tamed the Republicans
  • The true value of a smile

Don’t assume that power is only achieved by those who follow the rules

Every day you wake up early in the morning, accomplish all your tasks and responsibilities, often staying late into the night. You work hard at your job and you expect that it will pay off. You are convinced that as soon as your boss notices your hard work, you will get a promotion.

But in reality, you could be waiting for a promotion for much longer than you expected. Many studies have shown that there’s not much of a link between job performance and promotions. For instance, a study on Fokker, a Dutch aircraft manufacturer, found that white-collar workers were only twelve percent more likely to be promoted when they received a performance rating of “very good,” as opposed to merely “good.”

And this leads us to a common misunderstanding: that positions of power are earned by people who deserve them - namely those who follow the rules. Not only is this not the case, but this outlook prevents us from adopting methods used by people who have achieved their power through controversial ways. When we witness someone getting to the top by using an underhanded or ruthless approach, perhaps by taking too much credit for a team project, we rationalize the bad behavior to ourselves by believing that it will somehow be punished later down the road. This mindsets limits us as we do not learn from their success.

Assess your strengths and weaknesses

Most of us view the President as a natural leader - an individual born to do his job. In fact, this mindset is all too common. We see people in power and automatically think are naturally suited to power, as if they have some genetic gift for it. In reality, we all have the potential to become great leaders and to learn leadership!

An education in leadership starts by understanding what kinds of qualities are inherent to good leadership, the most quality being confidence. If you don’t believe that you can be a leader, you can’t hope to become one. Moving towards any goal requires confidence.

In addition to confidence, you need energy. The journey to power requires hard work, and to work hard, one needs energy to succeed.

And finally, every leader needs empathy - the ability to understand what other people need or want. Throughout your entire career, you will have to stand out to get noticed by the top decision-makers. Thus, it helps to know what they are looking for to cater to those tastes. Are they looking for a reliable and sensible person or someone with great communication skills having the capacity to lead?

There are many more important leadership qualities such as resiliency and self-awareness. Ultimately, the first step to increasing your personal power is taking the time to reflect on these qualities - being true to yourself in terms of which qualities you embody and which ones you don’t. This will allow you to capitalize on your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

Land in the right department

When building a career, most of us intuitively understand that a multinational bank probably offers better future prospects than a local grocery store. What’s more is that the differences that exist between companies also exist within companies themselves, in different departments. And if you want to be on the path to power, it’s important to land in the right department. According to a study that analyzed the career paths of 338 managers in a public utility company that employs 3,500 people, managers who began their career in the more high-powered departments enjoyed higher salary growth and were also more likely to land in powerful departments at other companies when they changed jobs.

To determine which department is the most powerful, you have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis by considering three factors. The first power indicator of relative pay. More powerful departments tend to offer higher salaries. The second key way to gauge departmental power is physical proximity to top leadership. In the case of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s headquarters, the location of departments changed to reflect a shift in power. Over time, the law and finance units moved up in the building, closer to senior management, while the engineering department moved down. And during this period, the representation of law and finance employees who moved into senior management positions rose accordingly. The third factor is a matter of the composition of important committees, such as the board of directors. More powerful departments will have higher representation in these committees.

Ask questions and occasionally break the rules

There’s an old Japanese proverb, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” But when it comes to career advancement, this proverb gets turned upside down. Consider a manager trying to decide who should get a promotion: when looking at a wooden plank with hundreds of nails hammered into it, and there’s one nail sticking out, it is obvious that the more visible nail will get noticed and chosen.

The best way to go about getting noticed is by asking powerful people for help. You could invite your boss to a lunch meeting and then ask what steps you should take to get a promotion. Your boss will likely remember that you were confident and daring enough to ask that question.

Granted, ignorance and rejection are always at stake, and many people are so fearful of getting turned down that they never take the chance. A study conducted by business school director Frank Flynn and doctoral student Vanessa Lake demonstrated this phenomenon. Participants had two tasks: The first being to ask other people for a small favor (to fill out a questionnaire), and the second being to predict in advance how many requests they would have to make before someone agreed to do the favor. Participants overestimated the number of people they thought they would have to ask by a factor of three. The key takeaway from this study is that ask away because there is nothing to lose!

And what if asking for what you want and being visible is not enough?

It is also important to be memorable - to stand out from the crowd for doing things differently. Take world-famous soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo as an example. Ronaldo is a fantastic soccer player, but there are many great soccer players out there. Ronaldo doesn't break the rules of the game more often than others but he stands out because he breaks social rules by being overly narcissistic.

If you seek other people’s help, find a way to help them first

Achieving power on our own is difficult. So, how can we get help?

First, you need to provide something of value, an asset that people need or want, in exchange. Sharing resources will compel others to help you, since the exchange involves an element of reciprocity. There is a social obligation to return favors. Imagine the following scenario: after telling a friend that you are planning to move next weekend, that friend offers to help. If you accept the help, there’s a high chance that you will feel that you owe your friend something in return. If you don’t accept the aid, you will probably still feel obligated to offer a helping hand the next time your friend needs assistance. This ability to help is a great resource, especially in the workplace. Helping a colleague with a boring menial task won’t cost you much and you will plenty of gratitude in return.

Not only should you offer a helping hand, but you should also treat people fairly and politely! Democrat Willie Brown, who ruled the California Assembly for sixteen years, promoted legislation that supported gay rights and the legalization of small amounts of marijuana. Despite this, he received support from many ideologically-opposed Republican legislators. Why? Because Brown had previously chaired a committee in which he treated Republicans with respect and fairness. He won respect, and thus his colleagues were willing to support him on certain matters, even when they personally disagreed.

Exude power

Politicians quarrel with each other about controversial issues non-stop. In fact, can you recall a time when you turned on the television to find politicians from opposing sides coming to an agreement? Well, there is one thing: politicians agree that the way in which they speak and behave can communicate authority and influence people. All powerful people have mastered the idea that the way in which you carry yourself can influence the way in which people interact with you.

To take it a step further, your emotions not only influence the people are you, they are contagious. Try walking through a hallway and smiling - you will be greeted with smiles in return.

A study on this very topic and its use in marketing found that people become happier themselves when they encounter others smiling. So, in this case, if they see an ad for a product containing someone smiling, the happiness will rub off on the customer — and she will have more positive feelings about the product.

Thus, exude power if you desire to be powerful! To do so, always display dominant behavior when interacting with others. For instance, show anger if you disagree with something. In her successful strategy, psychologist Larissa Tiedens found that easily display anger are perceived to be strong, intelligent, and competent. As well, take your time when speaking. You will find yourself wasting fewer words and contradicting yourself to a lesser extent, making you appear more competent.

Maintain a good reputation

At the 2001 California Medical Association, Albin Avgher, PhD, presented a theory about human communication. During his talk, Avgher expounded on some theories and ideas that were contrary to the conventional practices of other physicians and attorneys in the audience. Despite this, most people stayed in their seats and listened attentively as they were truly curious in what this expert had to say. That is, they were interested until Avgher admitted that he was not actually Albin Avgher, PhD, but instead Charlie Varon, a comedian who had made up everything he had just said.

This anecdote showcases the high extent to which reputation matters through the process of cognitive discounting. Once people form an opinion about you, they will focus on the aspects about you that are consistent with their judgment and ignore the others. In the case of Varon, the members of the audience believed everything he had to say because he had been introduced as a PhD, an expert with a valuable opinion.

What’s more is that when they interact with you, people modify their own behavior based on their assumptions. So, if Varon had never gone on to disclose his real profession, the audience members would have questioned him, not by challenging what he had to say, but by asking less critically for supporting evidence about what they could learn from his research.

Knowing that reputation is crucial, how can you ensure that yours is good? First impressions truly are everything. Forming a bad first impression may result in you becoming stuck in an environment where people have a poor opinion of you. In this situation, it will probably be easier to switch companies than to try to change the already established beliefs.

Expect to encounter obstacles

Although most people shy away from confrontation since they are conflict-averse, effective leaders realize that they are destined to meet others with different goals, values and options, and figure out how to face these people head on and win them over. Evidently, however, this approach does not advocate picking up a fight with the next person you see on the street. There are several ground rules to be mindful of.

Firstly, choose your fights wisely and don’t engage in unnecessary conflicts. Do defend yourself when someone stands in the way of your goals — by harshly criticizing your work, for example. But don’t get worked up just because someone parked in your favorite spot.

And when you do get find yourself in a conflict, be sure to act respectfully and to offer your opponents a graceful way out. You don’t want to make permanent enemies — people who feel compelled to attack you repeatedly. This tactic was crucial to Willie Brown, a California Democrat’s, political power. Following a tough campaign win, he lent a helping hand to former rivals by helping them secure other sorts of desirable posts, keeping them out of his way.

And finally, you must also know how to move on if you do loose a battle. Although tempting, avoid retreating and hiding your head in the sand when you experience an embarrassing failure. When Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he co-founded in 1985, he considered leaving Silicon Valley for good. But instead, he decided to start over by founding two companies, NeXT and Pixar, which became very successful. He later viewed the experience as, “the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Final words

Contrary to popular belief, following the rules is not the most effective way to achieve power and success. Instead, focus on developing your leadership skills, finding ways to stand out from your competitors and exuding confidence.

Take action:

Unfortunately, others often regard our efforts to promote ourselves as arrogance. To avoid this potential drawback, ask someone else to promote you (by hiring a Public Relations firm, for instance). Ask for help!