As project managers, we are entrusted with power. We assume three types of powers as soon as we become a project manager—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward. Also called powers of position. We often use these powers to get the job done, resolve conflicts among team members, pressure the team to fast-track, quickly make a decision, etc.
Yet the powers we use can come with a hefty price that we often ignore. In fact, that price can even outweigh the benefits we receive. Which raises the question: Why make this loss-making transaction?
One reason is that we pay the price either at a later date or we pay it gradually or indirectly. Therefore we don’t realize we are paying it at all, or we are just more interested in the short term.
For example, if a team member resigns, he may not give you the real reason behind his departure. We only realize there is a problem when several people quit! By then, too much damage may have been done to the organization or project.
Another reason we make this loss-making transaction has to with perception. Most managers think the power to penalize is bad. They believe using legitimate power is fine and using the power to reward is preferable. However, if you analyze carefully, you will find both of these powers have serious limitations.
You may find the only benefit of using these powers is saving time. What we sacrifice for quick results, then, are harmony, mutual understanding, unanimity, openness, fairness and justification.
By wielding power, we force decisions. If we penalize team members, we create fear. That makes people agree to what we want while putting their reservations aside. Openness is lost and communication breaks down.
When we use legitimate power, we tell people to do something because we are the project manager. Indirectly, we convey that we don’t have time to explain to you or convince you or respond to your reservations. The harmony and mutual understanding are lost.
The power to reward could be better than the other two, but it has several limitations and should be used very carefully. Rewards motivate people, but only if they are implemented with true honesty and transparency, which is not easy or common.
The risk is that people may agree with you in expectation of a reward, putting their legitimate doubts or questions aside. In addition, there may be more people who feel they are eligible for reward, but only one gets it, making others unhappy.
Our tendency to give rewards to excellent people does not allow us to recognize and reward average team members. They are not even getting motivated because they know they will not reach that league of excellence.
Or, people may be productive until they get what they are expecting. Then you have to continuously give something to everyone if you want them to be productive. It’s like keeping a carrot in front of a horse all the time—not as productive as it appears.
So what is to be done? The answer is simple: Give your powers to team members. In the end, this approach will be much more productive. It creates a healthy environment—healthier than what follows from deploying power in the traditional top-down ways.
In my next post, I‘ll discuss how we can give these powers to team members and how this will help create a productive atmosphere. Meanwhile, please share your experience and views on using powers below!