Gaining Power

Before you can lead, you must gain power.

Since we will be using the Initiative Framework extensively in The Fundamentals, let’s start by using it to outline your ascension strategy. After all, you must first gain power before you can lead.
Assess Requirements
In your assessment phase, you’ll need to think about four major stakeholders: yourself, the members of the team without leadership positions, the members of the team with leadership positions, and finally the team itself. Let’s start with you. Think about where you’re currently located in the organization and whether you have any influence with regard to team policy. Next, consider unique or important skills you possess that could benefit the team. Finally, think about the position you want to attain and what personal improvements you’ll need to make in order to do the job that you seek successfully.
Second, assess the members of your team without leadership positions. Ask around and determine what they’re looking for from the organization and what the organization is currently missing. Identify members who are popular and/or have influence and think about the steps you’ll need to take to bring them under your sway. This is especially important if there are democratic elections for your organization. It’s less important if leaders are appointed.
Third, for the members with leadership positions, identify those who have the most power and where their jurisdiction lies. Try to connect with as many leaders as you can to determine where they want to take the organization and how you can help them achieve that goal. Especially if leaders are appointed, you’ll want to connect either with a leader who has significant influence or the person whose position you are seeking.
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Last, you’ll want to think about the culture and rules of your organization. Almost all individuals adapt their behavior when they’re in a group based on their perceived social position and established relationships. The resulting mix creates the culture of the organization. Consider whether the culture is positively or negatively affecting the team. Which individuals or groups of individuals contribute to the culture? Culture is not only the result of individual relationships but also the traditions and informal rules that are in place. Certain events may stay the same year to year. For instance, freshmen initiation, pie-ing the president, and/or what year members run for office. Once you’ve determined how entrenched or flexible the culture is, you’ll have to decide whether you want to integrate or fight against it. Integration is generally the easier path. But, a revolution that you win will grant you a mandate that will allow for greater leeway to re-structure the team as you see fit.
During your research, be especially sensitive to pain points. Specifically, see if you can identify consistent themes in complaints like lack of communication, too much work, or unclear goals. You may be able to leverage these issues by convincing members that you understand their concerns and are the right person to address them.
In the case of formal, established rules, I would generally recommend following them. When you sign up for an organization, you implicitly agree to the formal rules. Use established channels to change them if you feel it is necessary. This may require you to wait until you’ve secured a position of power.
Now that you’ve determined what you want and what the members of the team care about, it’s time to plan your strategy. Think about the alliances you’ll want to make, the mentors you’ll want to attract, and the milestones you’ll want to hit. Consider if there are any requirements for the position you seek and how you can go about fulfilling those requirements. If there are members you need to woo, start building relationships by asking about future plans and discerning likes and dislikes. For each individual you want on your side, build a plan to maximize their success and have them think well of you. Each member joined the organization for a reason, whether it be better job prospects, a social group, or competitive success. You should plan to support their core reason for joining the team. Finally, consider the probability of failure and whether there are other more fruitful avenues that you might pursue as back up plans. Understand that your plan will change based on circumstances but that the process of thinking it through will guide against difficult times.
Now, it’s time to execute. First, you’ll need to get noticed both by your peers and your leadership. The easiest way to get noticed is to be present. To that end, structure your schedule to minimize conflicts with other commitments and team meetings.
Second, you’ll need to become excellent and respected at your craft. Whether it’s competitive public speaking, consulting, judo, or anything else, being good at the main objective of your organization will position you as a thought leader. The more you shine, the more people will be attracted to you. You should also advertise your desire for a leadership position as appropriate. If you express interest, more opportunities to show your competence will arise. However, don’t advertise your desire if you aren’t ready for increased responsibility and scrutiny as failure will reflect poorly on your ambitions.
Third, think about the organizational opportunities available to you. Try to join committees and fill gaps. You’ve also gathered information about what’s missing in the current organization, so suggest initiatives and be willing to spearhead them. Each initiative that you take on should address the needs of a different group of constituents within your organization. If your work can touch the lives of multiple people within your organization, not only will they be more likely to vote for you, but also your contributions will be more noticeable. At this stage, make sure that you get credit for your work. If someone mentions a project you’re involved with or an initiative you’ve spearheaded, let them know that you were involved. The more people who associate you with positive activities happening in the group, the better.
Fourth, now that you’ve identified what certain members care about, it’s time to make allies. Single out the people you need to make friends with and introduce concepts or ideas that they’re interested in. Make the time to meet with each person one on one and build a personal relationship. Some higher ups in organizations may rely on gatekeepers – secretaries, planners, enchanted gargoyles, and other administrators – to weed out interested parties. Make relationships with these gate-keeping individuals before trying to connect with their bosses. Lastly, celebrate with allies during times of achievement and support them during times of hardship. When it comes time to select new leaders, express your desire for the position and ask for their support. Make them commit to your ascension and remind them of the value that you’ve contributed to their lives.
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Once you’ve gained responsibilities and made friends, the fifth step is to seize upon the direction of the organization. The more responsibility you attain, the more you will be able to influence the form and culture of the team. As your initiatives benefit your members, position yourself as the best person for the job by taking control of specific functions related to the position. Help with budgeting if you want to become treasurer. Lead overall implementation of initiatives if you want to be president.
The last step is to consolidate your support and triumphs. When it’s time to select new leadership, it’s likely not the best time to be working on new initiatives. The year will be coming to a close and it will be time for you to focus on convincing your compatriots that you’re the right person for the job whether that’s through campaigning or interviewing. Now that you’ve become a leader, let’s get into the real business.

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