At some point in their careers, many executives find themselves short of the power and influence they need to get their jobs done effectively. Fortunately, these problems can usually be remedied.
Many years later, after a successful career as chairman and CEO of the biotechnology giant Amgen Inc., Kevin Sharer would look back on a period earlier in his career when he had a hard time getting all his ideas implemented. Although a talented manager, Sharer had made a common mistake when he started as executive vice president of marketing at telecommunications company MCI: He could see something that needed changing and set right in to try to change it. He had decided within his first month that the company should be organized by markets rather than geography, and he shared his views with anyone who would listen. Before long, however, Sharer discovered that despite his impressive new title, his recommendations went unheeded. The division presidents, on whom he relied to implement his sales and marketing initiatives, came to see him “as an adversary who was trying to reorganize their jobs,”1 and Sharer spent a frustrating three years at MCI before moving on. Ironically, most of the changes he proposed were eventually implemented. “The fact that I was right didn’t matter,” Sharer later conceded. “What I hadn’t done was build sufficient internal credibility.”2
In his experience at MCI, Sharer had unwittingly stepped into the role of what we call a “power-deficient executive” (PDE for short) — a role that most executives, even highly successful ones, will experience at some point in their careers. Power deficits are common and pose a classic challenge for even the most gifted managers. The good news is that we have learned, in the course of our research and coaching of 179 executives who had experienced a power deficit at some point in their careers, that power deficits can almost always be overcome by following one of two basic strategies. (See “About the Research.”)