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Informal power as means to assess candidates for upper management?

I just finished reading Smerek’s take on Power, which is part of his chapter on Leading and Building Organizational Culture (Smerek, Organizational Learning & Performance, page 155 et seq). Smerek ends with a quote from Dacher Keltner, which I just loved: “… if you seek to help others for the greater good of the group, you will be granted more power.”

This is about the informal power that anybody with the right thinking dispositions can attain and not about the formal power that derives from a title and matching top salary. Managers who develop informal power are people who build competence by applying their growth mindset, learning disposition, curiosity and intellectual humility and use their competence to help other for the greater good of the group. Put differently, these managers are people who are well on their way on their adult development journey.

Unfortunately, only very few companies will look at a person’s developed informal power to determine whether s/he is ready to take on this or the other top management opportunity. Too often, what catapults employees into upper management are traits that are intrinsic to personal power and related to revenue generation, cost minimization and the capacity to play well in the political sandbox. These are all traits that are important but usually only short term and not necessarily apt at managing a company through the growing complexities of our times.

Should it not be time to develop systems to help companies monitor and test the accumulation of informal power as part of their HR people development tools? With Kegan’s subject-object interview it should not be that difficult to assess management candidates whether they have built or have the capacity to build informal power!

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Regine, I have also often wondered about the question of how an employer can screen for traits such as, “growth mindset, learning disposition, curiosity and intellectual humility.” I am lucky enough to have come across such a team currently at my place of work, I’m inclined to wonder if informally a system of self-selection is at work – that kind of person looks for others of the sort, which becomes a virtuous cycle. I’m conscious of the biases that can creep in when we rely on such “feelings” to guide the select of candidates, however!

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