Gracefully handling more power at work - tips?
April 17, 2011 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I am becoming more "powerful" at work even though my job title is remaining the same, and I'd like some ideas on how to handle the change gracefully and maintain good relationships with my colleagues.

(Anonymous because I'd rather not link this work-related stuff to my real MeFi account.)

Some examples of what sorts of "power" I'm talking about, just in the last month:

- I was chosen to lead a course for other employees to develop their skills in an area I'm good at.
- Last week, my documentation and testimony was crucial in getting a violent and threatening employee dismissed.
- Over the next year, I found out this week, I will be taking on a number of solo projects because, I was told by my supervisor, I have talents that are better for the work than that of my colleagues.
- I'll be leading more meetings and work groups over the next year and will be more responsible for more people's output than I am now.

Some things I'm worried about:

- I'm younger and less-experienced than some other people who have not chosen to pursue some of the opportunities I'm taking on. A few of these people have the same job title as I do, and they interpret their responsibilities as a long list of things that are just too much to bear, while I lap up new opportunities and work happily, so I need to keep the peace with them.
- Many of the people I work with in a management role live here and plan to do so for decades; I do not. I want to make sure I don't upset the delicate ecological balance of our little pond while still being a somewhat ambitious fish.
- I already have a somewhat senior role at work - I'm "middle management", if such a thing can exist in a company of less than 30 people - and I don't want to be seen as going "beyond" what I'm "capable of" (even though I think I'll be able to take my new role on well).
- I find accepting praise really easy, and I don't want to be seen as wanting to take on more work just to hear how good I am.

A few details about the job:

- I work in private education, with a multinational staff that likes to have fun and is very tolerant of mistakes and missteps.
- We have close to 100% staff turnover every few years, with some "furniture" remaining; this is normal and expected in our industry (we train people to go on to do bigger/better things).
- Most of my current and future responsibilities involve supporting people in doing their jobs better rather than evaluating their work in a critical way, except as another means of developing their skills. It's a very supportive workplace overall.
- I feel extremely close to my colleagues and supervisors, and we socialize regularly; some of us live together! It's not for everyone, but it definitely works for us, though it's hard to "switch off". :)
- I'm outside the United States, in a mid-sized city in a European country.

Any tips that you'd rather not post, send along to Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Take the work complete it to the best of your ability and use it to move on to a better role in a different company.

Unless you are a major ass you have nothing to worry about.
posted by errspy at 10:24 AM on April 17, 2011

I have managed people older and more experienced than I was at the time. I think it's good that you're aware of the awkwardness. The key is to just do a good job, model good behavior and work practices, and to stay aware that this might be awkward or annoying to some people. It's okay to be ambitious.

However, I would try not to think of it as "power," even if that's what it is in practice. It isn't a great mindset IMO. Think of it as being a team leader or manager, and remember that as a manager, part of your role should be to protect and guide your team members, and help make your department look good as a whole (including your manager), not exercise power or crack the whip over them (even if there is an element of this in your position).
posted by theredpen at 10:25 AM on April 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

The people you think might feel threatened? You might privately ask their advice and express any worries you might have. They may find themselves small roles to play ("maybe I can help by..."). Thank them profusely. Get them to feel part of your success.
posted by salvia at 11:21 AM on April 17, 2011

However, I would try not to think of it as "power," even if that's what it is in practice.

Yes, power is not good for you. It may be just semantics but I suspect you'll do better in this situation if you think in terms of having more "responsibility". That means, more pressure on you to achieve goals and keep the team on track. Your reward, I'm assuming, is a few more bucks on payday and, if you're so inclined, an impressive notch to add to your resume.

Good luck. But beware of the Peter Principle:

The Peter Principle states that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence" .... The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. Peter's Corollary states that "in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties" and adds that "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence". "Managing upward" is the concept of a subordinate finding ways to subtly "manage" superiors in order to limit the damage that they end up doing.
posted by philip-random at 11:38 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

From your list of "powers" you said:

Dismissing a violent and threatening employee? Presuming they weren't widely beloved, then this story is all about them being an ass, not about you showing your "power."

Solo projects? Anyone "unambitious" will be barely aware these projects even exist if they don't have to work on them, let alone care that you are working on them.

But "will be more responsible for more people's output than I am now" is the one thing you listed that has potential for trouble. Especially taken together with "staff that ... is very tolerant of mistakes and missteps." What do you plan to do when someone fails to output what they promised? Can you handle it calmly?
posted by RobotHero at 11:52 AM on April 17, 2011

I think as long as you don't abuse your power you'll be fine. Resentment stems more from things like:
'X is coming to work late every day!'
'Why does X get to take a hour and a half lunch!?'
'X gave all the cushy parts in the project to their friends.'
'That was MY idea and X took the credit!'

And I agree totally with what Theredpen says. Be careful of thinking of it as power. Really you're not being given more power, you're being given more responsibility. And you are being given projects that just happen to be good for your skillset. You don't know that your colleagues aren't teaching classes at what they're good at, leading groups that fit their skills, etc. And I would hesitate to say that documentation you kept being led to someone being fired is a sign of your "power." That's something anyone could have and should have done, and should carry the same weight no matter who in the organization does it.

Just continue to be friendly, make sure you credit others work, act responsibly and you should be fine. Good luck!
posted by Caravantea at 12:00 PM on April 17, 2011

I'm not sure what you mean by "furniture" -- if you are referring to actual human beings as furniture, don't do that. Ever. Even glibly. Ever.

As others have stated, you are wrongly perceiving the respect you've gained by being good at your job as a resource you can trade for power. It's tempting to say "I got these people to listen to me. So you should give me the authority to do x without question. If you really want to be graceful and maintain the respect of your coworkers (which you are going to need) - don't do that. Ever.

You want people to perceive you as respected, not powerful. People assume that people who are respected have earned it. People do not assume that about people who call themselves "powerful". There are many ways to gain power (sometimes it's through hard work, honesty and gained respect, but it can also be through manipulation, privilege or other, more nefarious methods). However, there's only one way to gain true respect, and that's by being kick-ass at your job and a good, above board and honest coworker. Don't mistake the two. Ever.

Finally, give yourself credit for a hard work and a job well done. Be proud of your talents and your strengths. But don't start thinking you're a special, trailblazing genius. Don't let yourself think you're irreplaceable (even if it would take time and a really committed search). You'll get lazy and entitled and you'll lose the respect of your coworkers, and possibly even your job. So don't do that. Ever!

Disclaimer: this answer was written by someone who has made all of the dumb mistakes listed above and many, many more.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:32 PM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Damnit. I missed a quotation mark, thereby destroying the readability of one of those paragraphs. What I meant was:

It's tempting to say "I got these people to listen to me. So you should give me the authority to do x without question."
posted by pazazygeek at 1:33 PM on April 17, 2011

I have lived by the advice a VP of Product Development gave me long ago when I was first moved - without warning or overt interest on my part - from being an application designer to being a product manager, supervising in a matrix kind of way designers who'd been working there for five or six years. When I asked how I should act to get the most out of my colleagues, he replied, "It's simple. Don't be a dick. Any time you're unsure how an action or request will be received, just think how you'd respond if a superior did it to you - and as long as your response isn't, I'd think he was a dick, then you're probably OK."

And remember, the firm is promoting YOU, not your colleagues. Listen to their ideas, but make your own decisions, and follow them through.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 1:56 PM on April 17, 2011

None of the things you list constitute power. None of your work colleagues will think you have power over them because of those things. Leading a meeting doesn't mean anything and is usually something everyone else tries to get out of because they're old enough to know nearly all meetings are a complete waste of time. You've had an ego boost, and that's great, but if you try to leverage any of that stuff into 'power' over your work mates then at best they'll ignore you and at worst think you're a dick.

If you've been 'promoted' but your job title and pay are exactly the same then you've just been given more work to do (your 'solo projects') and suckered by your boss into thinking it's a great idea for you. You talk about yourself in glowing terms, and that's great, but I'm guessing you're over-estimating your presence in the workplace. If you have near 100% staff turnover you're just naturally accreting some extra responsibilities because you're the only one who knows where the pencil sharpener is.

Be nice, do your job, go on to better things if you like but any kind of 'hot shot' attitude beyond a naive enthusiasm for the task in hand is going to make you a figure of fun. Sorry.
posted by joannemullen at 3:35 PM on April 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree with joannemullen that yes, you do seem to be generally on the ladder, but I wouldn't quite put you on a management rung quite yet. Until you get the job title to back up your authority, I think you'll be best served by pretending you don't have it...because I don't think you do have it at the moment.

The use of "power" and "furniture" are semantically troubling; there are some connotations that could get you into trouble there. People I've worked with who had that kind of mindset are not liked by their teammates. Attitude nearly always leaks through in how we speak to, comport ourselves towards, and interact with our colleagues. I hope I'm mistaken (which is quite possible), but your post comes off a bit smug. If this is indeed the case, colleagues will pick up on this, so I'd change my self-talk in your position.

Leading meetings and professional development courses are a great way to get yourself on track for a leadership position, but you're not there yet. Just continue to do your job well, support your teammates, play to their strengths (and your own), and things should go swimmingly for this ambitious little fish (sorry...couldn't help it!).
posted by smirkette at 5:07 PM on April 17, 2011

You don't sound more powerful to me. You sound like you got suckered into doing more work and being responsible for more of other people's grief without any additional remuneration or a change in official status. You are in the middle of this pyramid. Soon you will be furniture. You should not be proud.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:19 PM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Until you get the job title to back up your authority, I think you'll be best served by pretending you don't have it...because I don't think you do have it at the moment.

QFT. The title is the means by which the boss communicates to all of the other employees that they should recognize your increased authority.

Don't get talked into doing job of someone a grade ahead of you, or your review every year will be advocating to get recognized for the job that you already do, rather than a real promotion. I so very much know whereof I speak.
posted by desuetude at 10:08 PM on April 17, 2011

The answer provided by pazazygeek nails a lot of what I came to write. You're not being given power but rather this is recognition for having certain a skill set that your co-workers don't, and that's a great thing! As part of that recognition you're being asked to help improve the ability of the whole team in those areas too, which is giving you exposure to some team and project management and is naturally making you feel pretty good about things. Keep the feet firmly grounded though.

If you are planning to be leaving the 100% turnover organisation in the next year or two instead of being the furniture, then these opportunities will sit nicely on your CV. As highlighted by desuetude this doesn't mean you can't be looking to receive additional remuneration in your existing role after proving your ability in these areas.
posted by kuriyama at 1:54 AM on April 18, 2011

Obiwanwasabi and joannemullen has it.

Other than your testimony that got someone sacked (this is definitely not power and disturbing you consider it so) everything else sounds like they gave you more work and responsibilities with no pay increase or promotion.

100% turnover every few years + very tolerant of mistakes = stagnant and clueless company that is taking advantage of your wide-eyed enthusiasm.

Sorry to take the wind out of your sails, but perhaps realizing you actually don't have any newfound "power" will help prevent you from abusing it.
posted by like_neon at 2:03 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Rowhouse 101?   |   Graduate School: Can I ? Should I? Where? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.