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Real Power: Possession Of Authority Or Influence Over Others

The real source of ones power was competence. Everything else was delusions of grandeur.

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My understanding of the concept of ‘Power’ underwent a drastic change after our three-person team participated in a national competition for young managers. 

As part of the competition we had to interview CEO’s and senior executives across industries, get their views on the theme of the competition, which was ‘Managerial Accountability, Authority and Effectiveness,’ and submit a 7000-word paper about our findings. We would later have to defend our paper at the regional and national level.

Delusions of grandeur

We asked respondents what they considered to be the source of their power. An over whelming majority said:

“My designation.”

“The size of my team reflects my authority.”

“ My powers to hire and fire people.”

“My signing authority.”

A few admitted that it was really how people perceived their authority based on perquisites they enjoyed.  It could be the size of their cabin, the cars provided by the company and even their perceived proximity to the top person.

Fading hopes

We were looking for some major insights on the subject and our hopes of placing well in the competition seemed to fade given the quality of responses received thus far. All that remained were few more interviews with executives from the public sector. 

The next person we met was the Director Materials at a large automobile company. 

Real Power

We let him do the talking.

“When I was promoted as the Director materials here, I moved into this large cabin, controlled a large team and my procurement budgets were larger than other auto companies. I was convinced that finally I wielded lots of power and authority.

But I soon realized how wrong I was when I noticed that the majority of purchase orders had to be approved by the CMD. You see, as per public sector norms, my signing limits were defined in value and the annual purchase value of even the smallest component easily exceeded this limit.

I felt powerless.

One day, a few weeks later, the CMD sent me a contract, of substantial value, which I had to read, initial and send back to him for his final approval. 

And this happened often and the story, soon making the rounds, was that the CMD would refuse to sign any document unless initialed by me. And then it struck me - my real power was my competence. Every thing else was just gloss.”

That was the insight we were looking for.

The real source of ones power was competence. Everything else was delusions of grandeur.

Incidentally we won the first prize at the national level. 

The writer is a consultant and an Independent Board Director at Jindal Stainless and author of the best selling book - Inside the C- Suite 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Real Power ceo special magazine 27 Sep 2021

Jayaram Easwaran

Author, Consultant, and Independent Board Director at Jindal Stainless

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