Otherwise, troubles WILL emerge.
We are all "hard-wired" to be acutely sensitive to power. Early in our evolution, brain centers developed which generate automatic responses for survival in reaction to perceived threats--flight, fight, freeze. These responses can bypass modulation by higher centers.
In modern times, perceived social threats can activate these pathways and grip us in strong emotions and faulty interpretations leading to disruption of work partnerships. Such threats might include potential failure, loss of self-esteem, or loss of control. Positional power taps into deeply rooted wishes and fears which magnify the effects of this ancient brain system.
If you have positional power, "the sense-making of people who work for you will be determined less by the facts and more by their internal story. If you do anything that tells them it is not OK to be real around you, your authority will amplify the impact of your action. The slightest voice inflection, the most innocent remark, can land hard on those you have authority over, causing them to make up stories that support increased caution and distort further interaction." (1)
"Every action and utterance can be scrutinized for meaning"--those with power are suspect until proven trustworthy. (2)
On top of this, research suggests that, regardless of underlying personality or values, just being in a position of power will cause a person to listen less, talk more, and have difficulty getting into another person's shoes to understand and empathize. (3)
On the other side of things, because of this magnifying effect of power, those with positional power can have a large, positive impact on the psychological safety of a work environment.
A few tips for the care and attention of power:
(a) Stay aware of the high risk for troubles no matter how skilled you are at relationships.
(b) Develop and maintain two-way feedback to generate external checks on how you are doing.
See the blog post Vulnerability, results, and leadership.
(c) Make explicit the values and norms of how you want people to experience relationships in
the workplace and use two-way feedback for ongoing assessment. See the blog post Create
share values by learning from imperfection.
(d) Assure that you take time with individuals and groups for open dialogue--get all the views on
table, even if critical or negative about your course of action. See the blog posts Thinking
Together and Asserting authority while preserving choice.
(e) Show individual consideration in working through problems people are having with decisions.
See the post Having trouble motivating others?--a quick diagnostic.
(f) Tailor your language to minimize status differentials and avoid threats to self-esteem. For
example, ask people to do things because you have decided that it is in service to the vision
not because you have more power than them.
(1) Goleman, Daniel et al Primal Leadership: unleashing the power of emotional intelligence Harvard Business
Review Press 2013
(2) Bushe, Gervase Clear Leadership: sustaining real collaboration at work Davies-Black 2010
(3) Cohen, Allan R., Bradford, David L. Influencing Up: partner with senior management and other powerful
people John Wiley and Sons Inc. 2012