Using Power in Leadership - Why Less is more

Many people tend to equate leadership with power, yet the two are vastly different. They are so different, in fact, that to be an influential leader you have to be willing to let go of power.

Lets start by defining leadership. The IACP defines leadership as,
The process of influencing human behavior to achieve organizational goals that serve the public, while developing individuals, groups, and the organization for future service.” If we compare this to other contemporary definitions of leadership we see many similarities. Kouzes and Posner (The Leadership Challenge) define it as “The art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” The common theme among these and other definitions of leadership provide us a fairly simple definition of the term: Leadership is about influencing others.

How do we influence others? To answer this, lets do a compare and contrast to another form of managerial influence. I have previously written about the characteristics of “Command and Control” organizations and how many of these characteristics undermine the impact of positive leadership. Command and control organizations use the most basic form of motivational influence over organizational members. They rely on either punishment or reward as a means of motivating others to perform their duties. These organizations often use positional power to provide rewards, or coercive power to exact punishment for performance “failures”. The hallmark of the command and control approach is that, while performance rewards may or may not be realized, consequences for poor performance are assured.

This dual application of power as a means of influence supposes that all employees will think, react, and behave exactly the same in response to these basic efforts to motivate. In essence, it assumes and requires that our organizations are filled with “cookie-cutter cops” who are incapable or unwilling to have individual thoughts, goals, and values. When it is applied on organizational members who actually DO have their own thoughts, goals, and values, it tends to result in resentment, distrust, and fear. As a leadership approach, command and control is about effective as a ruler whack on the back of the hand.

The goal of every organizational leader is to pursue and achieve the long-term goals of the organization. This is our very reason for existence, and the reason why we have people within our organizations. Our people are not made with cookie-cutters. They don’t all have the same needs, values, and goals. Creative, thoughtful, and inspired employees can do remarkable things within our organizations, with proper and effective leadership influence. The effective methods used to influence others are as varied as their individual needs, values and goals. If you get to know them, you will know how to influence them.

It takes a leader to understand that, and leadership to make it work.