You know you have to respect its power and if things get rough, most of us quickly head home and hope for a quieter day to enjoy its beauty.
Signs of power in those entrusted with organizations are a little harder to figure out. They can exemplify good or bad traits, but explaining the signs is lot more complex than my water example.
Over the last few decades I have had the opportunity to work with good, bad, and terrible managers and a few great leaders. Some were famous like Steve Jobs and others were just good people doing their jobs to the best of their ability.
Being aware of signs of power can help organizations change for the better or at least you can understand that things are not exactly how they seem at first glance.
My list is not a comprehensive one and more might come to mind and be added over time.
I have to get one thing out of the way early. Steve Jobs was not a great leader. He certainly was a product visionary and Apple is a very rich company because of that but not because of his leadership skills. There were some ideas that Steve pushed that helped Apple organizationally, but growing leaders or even people to replace himself were not things that Steve did well. He loved his power and enjoyed using all of it that he could.
The best anecdote that I can share about Steve Jobs happened in 2004. After years of letting us manage the largest federal show, FOSE, out of our field sales group, Apple corporate decided to take it over. My favorite story is that Steve Jobs actually picked the folding chairs that were in our small presentation space at the booth.
As director of federal sales for Apple, what kind of chairs we had in the booth mattered little to me, and I would have far preferred Steve had spent those precious minutes trying to understand why Apple products were truly needed in the federal space instead of studying chair brochures. You can read the full story here. Perhaps micromanaging product creation makes sense if you have a knack like Steve but picking the chairs in a federal show is something Steve could and should have delegated.
We all know that power has its prerogatives, but wise leaders understand what they can entrust to the people around them. They learn not to micromanage every detail. Rearranging or picking the chairs on the deck is not a great thing for a leader to do especially if they really need to be guiding the ship.
One thing that Steve Jobs and I did agree on was note pads. Steve would not allow them in meetings and was known to tell people trying to take notes that they would be better off just paying attention. Unfortunately he often used much more insulting words to make his point.
Our team at Apple got to be very leary of notepads. We had a couple of ex-Adobe managers come through the doors and each of them made a huge deal about how important their notebooks were to them. Unfortunately what we found was that just because they appeared to be taking notes did not mean that they were paying attention or even remotely considering any action to solve our challenges.
More important than notepads is how meetings are organized and run. For those who are uninterested in sharing power, meetings are more of a rubber-stamp affair than anything else. It is often an opportunity for the power hungry to show how much power they have. Little of real meaning takes place in their meetings. Meetings become something to hurry through and discussions are often cut short. Real decisions are made behind closed doors. Often the people going to the meetings never hear the real story even if doing their job requires that they know what is happening. If you get an agenda that rarely changes, start getting suspicious. The more information gets compartmentalized and the less you understand how everything is working, the more you should worry that someone is consolidating power and you are on the road to becoming a classic example of mushroom management.
Written reports are also a warning flag. Most successful organizations do not need a report in writing to know what another piece of the organization is doing. People in successful organizations know what each other are doing and pitch in as needed. Secrecy is rarely part of the way they are run. Meetings are far more effective if each person has five minutes or so to discuss their issues and get feedback from team members, but micro-managers do not like this kind of meeting because they lose control. A rubber-stamp meeting is never a messy meeting because nothing ever comes up that is controversial. Little ever even comes up to discuss and attempts to have discussions are often short-circuited. Identifying potential solutions to organizational challenges might get mentioned, but tackling them is always in the future.
Another huge warning flag is a manager who always appears busy but never really accomplishes anything that helps the organization get more effective. Often the manager is so busy doing other people's jobs that making the organization more effective is the last thing on their mind. The ineffective manager is mostly interested in making himself look good and his actions are organized solely from that persepctive. You will hear lots about how overwhelmed your manager is, but little about him or her giving up control on some projects that could easily be handled by subordinates.
The final warning sign that I will bring up today, is that leaders who are jealous of their power are hard to please. They often want things done their way and only their way even if they do not have the skill set to understand the issues.
Getting from being a manager who is jealous of power to a leader who understands that leading is all about sharing power is a difficult transition for some folks. This article of mine, Finding Your Way To Leadership, provides some additional suggestions.