Is Your Nurtured Power Style Limiting Your Effectiveness at Work?

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Consider your upbringing:

In your youth, were you encouraged to question all things and express yourself or taught to adhere to a strict set of rules? Maybe only one parent was the disciplinarian. Possibly even you, yourself, were the caretaker.

No matter what kind of upbringing you experienced, the relationships and environments through which you grew have fostered a particular interpersonal behavior – one that has extended into your personal and professional life.

HRIQ spoke with Maggie Craddock, author of Power Genes, a new book which explores how your nurtured response to power affects your reaction to "power plays" in the workplace.

1. In Power Genes, you give an in-depth explanation of the family-dynamic that exists in the workplace. Can you describe how this evolves, and why it might be detrimental for those of us functioning in a business environment?

As an executive coach who has worked with clients around the world, I’ve learned that your inner emotional reactions and outer behavioral responses to power plays on the job are often rooted in the ways you learned to respond to the first authority figures you met in life – the caregivers in your family system. Whether you are grappling with the office bully or trying to survive a turf war, the way you were conditioned to respond to power in your family system may determine whether you come across as a dictator or a doormat on the job today.

You can enhance your career momentum by developing a deeper understanding of how your personal relationship with power on the job mimics the power dynamics you were exposed to in your family system. My work explores how emotional and behavioral triggers established in family systems often determine whether we lash out in anger or seek a deeper level of understanding when our power is being threatened at work.

2. In order to manage these nurtured approaches to life and work, you say it is important to identify yourself with one of four core power types. What are they, and how does one "diagnose" a power type?

To help people clarify their signature power style, I’ve created a matrix that I call "The Power Grid". This matrix maps your inner emotional responses to the give and take of power on the job against your behavioral preferences for influencing others. The Power Grid reveals the four core personas that exist within all of us: "the Pleaser", "the Charmer", "the Commander" and "the Inspirer."

Pleasing is a power style which exemplifies people that wield power by attempting to connect with others at a personal level. Due to outside stressors, which can range from financial struggles to preoccupation with a sick relative, Pleasers often didn’t get the attention they craved from their caretakers early in life. As a result, Pleasers often grow up hungry for validation and are hardwired to take care of others.

The Charmer power style is exemplified by people with an intensity of focus that both intimidates and seduces others into compliance. Charmers were required to soothe an emotionally needy parent early in life. As a result, Charmers often have little respect for formal authority and may manipulate others in order to get their needs met.

Commanders operate with a results orientation and tend to foster a sense of urgency in others. Often, a Commander has grown up in a family system devoted to sports, religion, the military or any larger system that reinforces discipline and a strict code of conduct.

The Inspirer power style is characterized by individuals who tend to be innovative thinkers and operate with a consistent commitment to the greater good. The family systems that foster Inspirers often value self-expression over conformity, and the caregivers in such systems are often willing to make personal sacrifices to achieve excellence in areas such as artistic expression or scientific inquiry.

We all carry within us the potential to exhibit the strengths and blind spots of any of these four core power styles. Some people discover that they exhibit one or two of these core power styles a significant percentage of time on the job. Others report that their signature power style is more of a blend of all of the four core styles. There is not a right or wrong when it comes to uncovering your signature power style. The goal is not to categorize. The goal is to help people have a deeper dialogue with themselves, and others, about the way they give and take power on the job.

3. So what are the benefits of knowing your sort of inherited or nurtured power genes?

My work has taught me that power is about relationships: Your relationship with your self, your relationships with others and your relationship with the organizations and systems you decide to join and support in the course of your life and career. Clarifying your power style will help you achieve success on your own terms at all three relational levels.

In terms of your relationship with yourself, understanding the roots of your power style will help you make the distinction between the values and professional goals that have genuine meaning for you and distinguish these from what other well-meaning colleagues and family members think you "should" do to thrive professionally. In terms of your relationships with others, clarifying your signature power style will support your efforts to negotiate conflict in a way that supports your personal integrity rather than diminishing it. Finally, as far as your relationship with larger systems and corporate cultures is concerned, The Power Grid can be used to assess whether you can achieve your professional ambitions in your current work environment, or whether it’s time for a transition to a new career path that better aligns with your strengths and instincts.

4. Is it important to try and diagnose, say, a superior’s power type? How would that help create a more effective professional relationship?

Identifying your signature power style will help you determine the necessary steps to communicate the value of the professional contributions you are making more clearly and persuasively. This can help you at review time, when negotiating for a pay raise or bonus or during the interview process. When it comes to the power style of your boss, by viewing a superior’s power style through the lens of the family framework, you can develop empathy and insight into your manager’s behavior. This type of insight helps you make the leap from focusing exclusively on how you are coming across to considering how your boss feels about him or herself in your presence. The key to cultivating this type of professional empathy comes from grasping how emotional history plays into spontaneous reactions on the job.

5. Knowing who you are and where you came from before proceeding in your working life is a wealth of knowledge difficult to argue against. Do you think understanding ourselves through these biological concepts can impact all our relationships in a positive way?

The most important conflicts in business are often the conflicts we have within ourselves. By coming to understand the roots of our signature power style, we can learn to operate more powerfully on the job.

But it doesn’t stop there.

All memory is emotional memory. As we reflect more thoughtfully on our personal history and how this shapes our signature power style, we may rethink our assessment of what took place in our family system and how this has shaped our subsequent choices. As our emotional memory morphs, so does our power style. What’s more, as our power style shifts on the job – it often shifts on the home front as well. Thus, understanding your power style will do more than make you a better business leader. It can also make you a more understanding spouse, a more patient parent and even a better friend.

6. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

By using The Power Gridin conjunction with existing tools such as Meyers Briggs, individuals can learn to incorporate the results of these and other well-known standardized tests into an action plan for developing more agile and effective responses on the job and bettering their workplace relationships. Working with The Power Grid can help an employee understand how his or her personal history plays a role in shaping the test scores and professional feedback being received in the present. This insight empowers employees to recondition themselves to overcome unproductive habits and begin to develop a more agile power style that draws evenly from the strengths represented by all four of the core power styles.

Interview conducted by Taylor Korsak, Editorial Intern for Human Resources iQ.