We see the abuse of power by leaders in many contexts today – government and political parties, aid and other charity organisations, corporations, sport administration, gangs, etc. – the list is seemingly endless. Those, who are in some way controlled by these selfish leaders, feel disempowered, helpless and disheartened. Work becomes a misery that has to be endured; the office becomes a prison and career growth crumbles as an impossible dream. People lose hope.

In a recent study by the Centre for Creative Leadership (The Role of Power in Effective Leadership: 2008), with reference to the perception of power, the survey notes that 55% of respondents felt that power is concentrated in a few select individuals in their respective organisations and 28% noted that power is misused by their top leaders. Perhaps part of the problem, however, lies in the definition of the concept of power – some might think of it as “control”, others as “authority” and still others (perhaps preferably so) “the ability to influence”. The latter helps demystify power and puts into perspective the importance of using this “healthy” power in order to be an effective leader.

The study goes on to quote previous research in this area which identified seven bases of power that leaders may leverage (italics mine):

  1. The power of position – the formal authority that derives from a person’s title or position in a group or an organisation. While this is legitimate power, it should never be abusive or controlling, but rather decisive, empowering and facilitating.
  2. The power of charisma – the influence that is generated by a leader’s style or persona. Not all leaders are attractive in this way – some are unfortunately quite boring.
  3. The power of relationships – the influence that leaders gain through their formal and informal networks both inside and outside of their respective organisations. These relationships and networks should be integrity-based and not exist for personal gain – they rather should exist for organisational gain.
  4. The power of information – the control that is generated through the use of evidence deployed to make an argument. This is helpful when coming from a position of research or observation, but is frequently abused by managers, especially when withholding relevant bits of information.
  5. The power of expertise – the influence that comes from developing and communicating specialised knowledge (or the perception of knowledge). The expert should also be willing to listen to the ideas of others – no one individual is the holder of all knowledge.
  6. The power of punishment – the ability to sanction individuals for failure to conform to standards or expectations. Performance management is a daily necessity, but should be developmental in intent.
  7. The power of reward – the ability to recognise or reward individuals for adhering to expectations or standards. Acknowledgement of excellence is highly motivational, not only for the individual, but also for the team.

Leaders don’t overdose on power. Rather use your influence humbly to nurture organisational growth, trust and meaningful relationships and thereby harness the skills of your people and secure their ownership of the business intent and goals.

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