Why Integrative Power is a Manager’s Ultimate Resource

It can be challenging for managers who operate “above” teams to successfully blend the relationship dynamics of “tall” structures (hierarchies) with the dynamics of “flat” structures (teams).

Managers who use their Leadership Gift handle the challenge most effectively by using their power(s) carefully.

In his book, “The Three Faces of Power,” the late Kenneth Boulding (a renowned economics professor) outlined three sources of power available to any “actor” in an economic system (that’s us!).

There are several popular theories about power, but I’m fond of Professor Boulding’s three-part distinction:

  • Authority, otherwise known as threat or “power over”

  • Economic, otherwise known as exchange or “power to”

  • Integrative, otherwise known as love (yes, he says “love” where we might say teamwork or collaboration) or “power with”

These three sources of power don’t occur in an either/or fashion. Instead, they appear in some combination. (For instance, I can parent with a blend of more threat and less exchange and love, or I can choose more love and less exchange and threat, etc.).

Many managers I meet over-rely on their “power over,” their authority. Of course, they’ve been taught to do so. And it feels safe and secure, and easy — even if it doesn’t get good results.

More often than not, more authority is an organization’s strongest reward for successful managerial performance. Ironic, but true.

The most startling part of Boulding’s writings — and the point I believe provides the greatest access to new learning — is this: of the three sources of power, two are clearly limited.

“Power over” is limited to one’s assigned (or ascribed) authority. “Power to” is limited to one’s budget or ability to convert assets to currency. Only “power with” is unlimited.

Integrative power is unlimited in its ability to mobilize, focus, and energize people, groups, organizations, and nations.

Want a quick example? Take me. I have minute authority (over a few employees) and little to trade. However my purpose and vision seem inspiring enough to attract partners all over the word to help spread the Leadership Gift.

All that’s required to tap into our integrative power is our individual skill in formulating and conveying a compelling message about how our fate is — or can be — linked with someone else’s.

Team members have no authority over each other. Whatever individual participants can contribute to a team gives them exchange power. But what teams most rely on is integrative power.

And because of its unlimited potential, integrative power enables teams of ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results.

So here’s the bottom line for managing with your Leadership Gift: to successfully manage “above” teams, smart managers refrain from applying their authority and economic power in ways that disrupt their reports’ integrative power with each other.

Instead, managers who apply the Leadership Gift contract with the entire team (not with the individual participants) for the team’s most effective use of its authority over individuals on the team. Then they stick to that contract.

Get Started With This Week’s 5-Minute Stretch

Recall three recent situations in which you felt truly powerful. Then reflect on the sources from which you drew your power and answer these questions:

  1. What was the mix of authority, exchange and integrative power?
  2. What were the results?
  3. How might a different mix of power sources have fueled a different result?

Extra Stretch: Applying authority and exchange power requires little thought. Uncovering and applying one’s integrative power can be challenging.

Your Challenge: Attempt to spend an entire meeting — or an entire day — relying only on integrative power. Note your difficulties and your results.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Leadership on 12/17/2012 01:11 am
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