The Power of Information!
A complementary power base to your expert power base is your information power. To fully develop this power base, you will have to be able to find and use information from a variety of sources including instructions, policy manuals, websites, email, social media, and most importantly, your people. As has often been quoted, “information is power” and information is important to you because it can:
1. Broaden your knowledge and perspective
2. Help you make better and more informed decisions
3. Allow you to provide better advice and guidance
4. Improve your delivery of Influence tactics
Your success with this power is realized by gaining access to and using information that others need, want, or that is provided to you. In turn, you use it effectively to influence their decision making, behavior, and the accomplishment of your goals. Other tactics of information power include using information to shape opinions or attitudes, to bring up issues, pairing information with rewards to get others to help share messages that support your objectives, or using coercive power to deter people with information that could serve to counter your objectives or expose your personal power shortfalls.
Sources of information include instructions, policies, handbooks, websites, social media channels, meetings, articles, personal records, networks and professional organizations, and face-to-face discussions. As you move into positions of responsibility you will find yourself gaining access to more sources of information, and in turn, your information power base will grow. In modern times, the internet and a wealth of social media sites have provided today’s workforce with immediate access to volumes of information that was once in the hands of a few leaders. Policies can be found with a simple Google search and YouTube videos offer “how to” instructions on anything your people could want to do or know. With all this information, you should consider how to use it to your advantage as a leader and manager.
I’ve found that information can be used in a variety of ways. You use it to shape your decisions and you can share, withhold, or manipulate information to shape the decisions of others or to influence them towards your objectives. You can also use the information you learn about your people through formal and informal conversations or interviews to help enable your influence tactics. For example, knowing something about what deeply motivates a worker can help you formulate an inspirational or personal appeal. On the other hand, knowing what they hold valuable and consider a “cost” is key information you would want to know when having to apply a pressure tactic or when using negative discipline--information power is essential for fully utilizing all your influence tactics to their potential. Let’s look at each of these approaches a bit more.
You share information to keep your people informed, help them make personal and professional decisions, and keep them connected to the mission or objective. Your people work better when they understand where their work fits into the big picture. It is always best to keep your team informed, within security restrictions, of changes that will affect their futures. You should also let them know what is expected of them by explaining formal directives or by using clear verbal instruction. You should use information to keep them informed on the progress they are making—take time to tell them whether the work is good or requires improvement. Keep them up to date on policies that impact their career development and choices.
These days, it is very easy to send a link or share a social media post that has insights on policy, management, or leadership. I think this is information that you should strive to communicate to your people because it puts a great amount of decision making in their hands. Society is experiencing a period of tremendous change. The values and beliefs of many organizations is changing. In turn, many of the policies designed to recruit, retain, educate/train, and distribute your people are under review or have changed. Many of the policies have a direct impact on the quality of work or quality of life of your people and can cause anxiety, so you should strive to get the answers to them so they can understand the what, when, where, and why behind the policies and make their own informed decisions.
Or consider that you may have access to information or knowledge about an evolution, process, or perspective from your team that your supervisor needs or would like to use to plan or decide. You may be brought into working groups or to provide briefs to senior audiences. This puts you in a position of power to influence policy outcomes or mission outcomes, so take these opportunities seriously, reflect on why you are providing, withholding, or changing the information you have access to, and always provide an input which best serves the mission/objective regardless of your personal feelings about it.
Information can also be withheld to shape behavior. Depending upon the circumstances, a leader may elect to withhold communicating certain policy changes until the most appropriate time to ensure that the unpopular news does not take their people’s focus off the mission. You can also withhold information as a development tactic to force your people to do their own research and make their own decisions rather than immediately giving them the best answer.
Information can also be manipulated or misused. In a more sinister example, a person with access to unique information may hold it to make themselves the “go-to” person for answers and to have leverage over their people. Or in more extreme cases, a leader may provide misinformation to alter the behavior of people. Leaders and managers who elect to withhold or distort information are taking risk. Considering how readily available information has become, in many cases your people have access to the same information resources that you do, so if you try to shape behavior with misinformation, you take great risk and may find your personal power base severely eroded as their people quickly lose trust in you. Furthermore, do not misuse your information power to exaggerate your accomplishments, cover up your mistakes, manipulate your people, or misrepresent situations to gain access to more resources. Finally, you may be in a position that gives you access to personal information about people, or classified or sensitive information, that if not properly controlled could risk advantages your organization has or erode the trust your people have in you. This information is often sensitive and subject to rules and controls on its distribution, so make sure you know those limitations and adhere to them.
I hope I’ve given you some reasons to realize how access to information and how you use that information can have significant influence on people and organizations. Check out this edition of the Cutlass Podcast and this video to get some more of my thoughts on your information power base. Take some time to share how you build and use information power to achieve success!
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