Lead From the Front
There are many different power bases that a leader can use.
These include problematic ones such as the power of position, the power to give rewards, the power to punish and the power to control information. While these types of power do have some strength, they can put the person being led in an unhealthy position of weakness, and can leave leaders using these power bases looking autocratic and out of touch.
More than this, society has changed hugely over the last 50 years. Citizens are individually more powerful, and employees are more able to change jobs. Few of us enjoy having power exerted over us, and many will do what they can to undermine people who use these sorts of power.
However, there are three types of positive power that effective leaders can use: charismatic power, expert power and referent power.
This article teaches the technique of building expert power.
Using the Tool:
Expert power is essential because, as a leader, your team looks to you for direction and guidance. Team members need to believe in your ability to lead in a worthwhile direction, give sound advice, and co-ordinate a good result.
If members of your team see you as a true expert, they will be much more receptive when you try to persuade them to do something, and when you want to inspire them to make more of an effort.
And if they see you as an expert, you’ll find it much easier to motivate them:
- If team members respect your expertise, they’ll trust you to show them how to work effectively.
- If team members respect your judgment, they’ll trust you to guide their efforts in such a way that you’ll make the most of their hard work.
- If they can see your expertise, they’ll believe that you have the wisdom to direct their efforts towards a goal that is genuinely worthwhile.
Taken together, if your team sees you as an expert, you’ll find it much easier to motivate your people to perform at their best.
So how do you build expert power?
- Gain expertise: The first step is fairly obvious (if time consuming) - gain expertise. And, if you are already using tools like information gathering, the chances are that you have already progressed well ahead in this direction.
But just being an expert isn’t enough, it is also necessary that your people recognize your expertise and see you as a credible source of information and advice. Gary A. Yukl, in his book “Leadership in Organizations,” details some steps to build expert power. These are:
- Promote an image of expertise: Since perceived expertise in many occupations is associated with a person’s education and experience, a leader should (subtly) make sure that subordinates, peers, and superiors are aware of his or her formal education, relevant work experience, and significant accomplishments.
One common way of doing this is to display diplomas, licenses, awards, and other evidence of expertise in a prominent location in your office - after all, if you’ve worked hard to gain knowledge, it’s fair that you get credit for it. Another tactic is to make subtle references to prior education or experience (for example, “When I was chief engineer at GE, we had a problem similar to this one”). Beware, however: this can easily be overdone.
- Maintain credibility: Once established, you should carefully protect your image of expertise. Avoid making careless comments about subjects on which you are poorly informed, and avoid being associated with projects with a low likelihood of success.
- Act confidently and decisively in a crisis: In a crisis or emergency, subordinates prefer a “take charge” leader who appears to know how to direct the group in coping with the problem. In this kind of situation, your people will associate confident, firm leadership with expert knowledge. Even if you’re not sure how to deal with a crisis, you’ll lose influence with members of your team if you appear confused.
- Keep informed: Expert power is exercised through rational persuasion and demonstration of expertise. Rational persuasion depends on a firm grasp of up-to-date facts. It is therefore essential that you keep well-informed of developments within your team, within your organization, and in the outside world.
- Recognize team member concerns: Use of rational persuasion should not be seen as a form of one-way communication from the leader to members of his or her team. Listen carefully to the concerns and uncertainties of your team members, and make sure that you address these.
- Avoid threatening the self-esteem of subordinates: Expert power is based on a knowledge differential between the leader and team members. Unfortunately, the very existence of this differential can cause problems if you’re not careful about the way in which you exercise expert power.
Team members can dislike unfavorable status comparisons where the gap is very large and obvious. And they are likely to be upset by a leader who acts in a superior way, and arrogantly flaunts his greater expertise.
In the process of arguing for what they want, some leaders lecture their team members in a condescending manner and convey the impression that the other team members are “ignorant.” Guard against this.