What Every Security Executive Should Know about Power and Influence

How to speak the language, know your blindspots, and understand your level of influence


One thing that is very important is to know what one or two styles you tend to favor. If you come out of a traditional hierarchical organization, as many security people do, you might gravitate toward a Commander style. But you might find yourself in an organization that has more of a Powerbroker style. This was the problem faced by the executive in the case presented above. In this environment, it is important to work behind the scenes to get things done rather than mount a frontal assault. You have to think politically.

You have to know your style and then ask yourself, given the situation, what would be the most effective style to use? Sometimes you cannot change styles. If you are unable to adapt your style because it is too hard-wired, perhaps you can partner with another person in the organization who has similar goals but also has an influence style that is more closely aligned with the style of the organization. You may find yourself in a situation where emotions are running so high that you might not be the best person to make the case. If you do not understand your style and the style of the organization or the group you are trying to influence, you may be setting yourself up for failure. They simply will not be able to hear what you are saying because of the approach you are taking. You need to frame your message so it is aligned with the culture of the organization.

Knowing your blindspots: Once you understand your style and the style of the organization, you can recognize your blindspots. We all have blindspots, even very successful people. Even a very successful leader like Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli, who takes a very autocratic or Commander approach to influence, got into trouble because he failed to see how this would be received by shareholders. He held a shareholder meeting that was a tightly scripted affair. A number of shareholder activists wanted to have a discussion of some of their concerns. He gave everyone just a short time to make a point and then he turned off their microphone. They saw him as controlling and dismissive. He has been apologizing for it for months. Here was an extremely successful leader at both General Electric and Home Depot, yet this blind spot seriously damaged his reputation. He took a Command approach while the shareholders wanted a Harmonizer who could focus on relationships. There was a mismatch.

Understanding who will win and lose: In the Wharton program, we use a strategic persuasion framework to analyze the political situation and understand who wins and who loses. In any situation, there are winners and losers. This is the reality of corporate life. A particular set of people benefit and others lose. They get fewer resources, make less money, are restructured into a new job or move to a lower level of the organization. It is important to understand who will win and who will lose if a certain idea goes forward. Then you can build alliances with the right people-others who also will win-and address the concerns of the people who will lose.

Using the best channel: Finally, you need to give thought to the best way to deliver your message. Should it be through a personal meeting, a group meeting or by e-mail? Each channel will have a very different impact on the outcome. Each has strengths and weaknesses in exercising your influence. For example, an e-mail may allow you to quickly reach many people in the organization, but you lose control of where your message goes. If the e-mail is forwarded to people who might lose out as a result of the initiative, you may help to mobilize the opposition to your idea.

Planning your campaign: While you might think that if you develop a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door, this is generally not the case. You need to think about how to organize your campaign. How do you systematically mount an effort to make the case for a security initiative? You may need to work behind the scenes or make the case in public forums. You need to develop a coherent plan, follow up and keep after it.

Many managers may shy away from discussing power and influence because they see it as manipulation. It is not manipulation. Even in a small organization, no one has a complete, 360-degree view of the organization or the environment. You have a responsibility to help others understand your point of view. It is not about manipulation but carefully planning your way to a community.