In one of the Austin Powers movies, Dr. Evil devises one nefarious plot after another, only to have his side-kick tell him that his plans won’t work because he lacked some critical piece of information. In frustration, he laments, “OK, people, you have to tell me these things, all right? …Throw me a bone here. I’m the boss. Need the info.”
His people were using their information power poorly, and making the boss mad. Read on to learn five ways you can use information to boost your power rating and keep Dr. Evil off your back.
What Makes Information Power Different?
Information Power is one of six sources of power that Social Psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven wrote about in the 50s and 60s. (read about the others here). While some power sources are related to the position a leader holds, others like information power are more personally derived. And that means that you can develop your Information Power base whether or not you are the leader.
The key is to realize that information power is different from expert power and the other powers in several important ways.
Its usefulness is short-lived. Often the time that it is valuable is brief. The fact that you know that there’s a traffic jam on Interstate 80 or the network is going down for maintenance this afternoon is useless after the fact.
It is independent of you. You didn’t change it or make it, you‘re just the conduit, passing it along. It has value to others when you share it, but once you share it, they don’t need you.
It’s not that you have it. It’s what you choose to do with it. Sharing it, limiting it to key people, organizing it, even falsifying it – these actions can cause changes in the power structure of a group.
You need constant sources. Since the minute you give it away, you’re not needed, you have to be able to regularly replenish your supply in some way to develop information as a power base.
To be truly useful as a power base, it’s not about one piece of information; it’s about having a steady flow of lots of it. If you become the consistent source of helpful input that benefits the team, they will turn to you more and more. It’s that steady flow of accurate, useful information that becomes source of power and influence for you.
Where Do I Get the Information?
The information can come from anywhere: what you overheard in the break room, conversations with people, meetings you attended, or what you found while doing research on the internet.
The important thing is to be well-connected and tap in to lots of sources. If your sources are the same as everyone else on the team, you won’t develop different information. So maximize your communication network, talk with people outside the team, read things others aren’t reading, and you’ll develop information the rest of your team doesn’t have.
What Do I Do With it?
Now that you have some information, here are five ways you can put it to work that will build your information power base.
- Use it Generously. Become a conduit for useful information; consistently sharing it openly with all your teammates in a helpful way will mark you as a team player. “You guys heard that the meeting time changed to 10:00, right?”
- Don’t be a Hoarder. Having but not sharing useful information can backfire on you, so share what you know. “I wish he had told me that the contract was cancelled so I didn’t do all this extra work!”
- Use it to inform a decision. Often I’ve seen groups trying to solve a problem without benefit of some basic facts. Be the person who anticipates and provides this information and your power will rise. “Before you decide on which proposal to accept, you should see these independent approval ratings I just got.”
- Use it to build trust/credibility. Be selective in what you pass on. Sharing rumor just makes you a gossip. Falsifying builds distrust. Try to be the person who always seems to have the fact right and shares them quickly with the team. Inform the conversation with solid facts.
- Use Discretion. If the information is personal or sensitive, keep it to yourself. Not everything you hear needs to be shared widely. If it can be harmful to the team or to someone, keep it to yourself. If you don’t, you will lose the trust of your teammates, and they will be less likely to share information with you in the future.
Information Power – The Takeaway
Information power can be a great way to boost your influence on the team, and you can build it whether or not you are the established leader. Just remember that to use it to best effect, you need to cultivate sources that others don’t have, make sure it is accurate, and share it openly.
Question: I mentioned conversation, meetings, reading, and the internet as sources of information. What other sources can you think of or have you used?
French, J. and Raven, B. (1959). The Bases of Social Power. In Studies in Social Power, D. Cartwright, Ed., pp. 150-167. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.