What’s the biggest mistake you ever made? (part 3)
And what would I do next time?
I’ve been writing about my biggest mistake, and that was the broken relationship with my secretary at my first job, as marketing director of a regional shopping mall.
Here’s what happened: One night I left a stack of articles for my boss to read on our secretary’s desk (she was secretary to both my boss and me) and the top article was about fashion tips for career women. The next morning, she came to work and thought I was leaving the articles for her.
It was over a misunderstanding. She thought I was criticizing her appearance or her fashion choices and decided to stop being my secretary.
So what should I have done? What could I have done?
Let’s talk about power.
In the world of business and other interactions, there are different types of power:
• Legitimate Power: objective, title-based power. In this way, your boss has authority over their employees.
• Coercive Power: power based on fear, the use of or threat of force, like bullying.
• Informational Power: The power one gains by knowing something others don’t know.
• Expert Power: this is based on skills, experience, expertise, and the respect others hold for those qualities.
• Connection Power: important in a networked society, this is power derived from who you know and who you can make connections with.
• Reward Power: when one has the power to hand out raises, promotions, awards, even information.
• Referent Power: This is power based on leadership abilities, based on relationships and trust.
Back to the question. What could I have done, what kind of power did I have over this situation?
Now that I’m a little older, I think we always underestimate how much power we have.
In that case, I had (some) legitimate power. But not much. Coercive power? Not my style.
Informational power and expert power can be useful, but only if those you are trying to persuade have any interest in that information or expertise.
Connection power? Not at that stage of my career. Reward power?
Like legitimate power, that was in my boss’s bag of tricks, not mine.
It comes down to referent power.
I think if this happened today, under similar circumstances, I’d ask her to join me for a coffee or lunch meeting to talk about the situation in a fairly neutral place. Provide context. Explain. Build our relationship. Establish trust.
Back then, we would have had to settle for the hot dog stand at the entrance to Woolworths just a few steps away from the office.
What do you think?