Role Power Versus Relationship Power: Does it hold up?

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A while back, I advised leaders to focus more on building strong relationships and less on using their role power. This idea is still important today. You can see my original post here.

It used to be easier to give examples of role power — people could be bossy, “my way or the highway”, and dismissive. We’ve grown less tolerant of that, so role power has become a little more subtle, taking a blustery (rather than bossy) or passive-aggressive tone.

Here are two “role power” phrases that are more passive aggressive or blustery than clear, human, and direct…

  • Associates don’t write like this. Low level assistants do. Keep that in mind.
  • When you’re in this chair you need to make the tough calls.

I’ve heard those things said out loud, and they make me cringe, because the speaker is missing a chance to build the relationship. Consider: “We put you in the associate role because we believed you can go to the next level with the copy you write and self-edit. You need to do some more work there, and I’m here to guide you.” Or “I do have to make unpopular decisions. It’s a part of my role, and I know it affects you; I have to do it anyway.”

The essential points hold up and have become more clear over time:

Role power often provokes rebellion, and relationship power encourages cooperation.

The concepts hold up, and I’m always glad to revisit them.

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