Wednesday, May 01, 2013

On Power

Sooner or later when Leadership is the topic the notion “Power” comes up. And indeed, as a leader you do have quite some power. There are many different definitions of power, and we all know Macchiavelli’s thoughts in “The Prince”. What is then the definition of power? One can condense it down to the essence: The ability of getting things done.

Often, leadership is misinterpreted as “having authority over others”, and power is understood as “commanding and forcing”. To drive this point home the military is used as an example. Yet, that’s not how the modern military works, it only appears to be that way for people not familiar with it.

Asymmetric challenges are meanwhile not only common for the military, this is the way our world is transforming into. Nowadays a small startup somewhere on the planet can challenge and put out of business a large corporation. Disruption and creative destruction are becoming the norm, made possible by technology. How about that kind of power?

Powerful Leadership today is for instance the ability-

  • to connecting on a deep level with people from all over the world, people with diverse cultural backgrounds, diverse education …

  • to listening and gaining a thorough understanding of the different points of view of people and the facts presented.

  • to integrating their perspectives into yours, thus broadening and deepening your worldview, hence enabling you to “see” what was hidden before.

  • to leading as the first amongst equals, getting people to voluntarily cooperating with you and choosing freely being led by you, acknowledging you as having the experience, the skills, the intelligence to lead them.

The times of “leading” a group of subordinates are gone. More often than not leadership means leading equals and that doesn’t work by force. In a way it reminds me personally of my experience as a project leader for large scale projects. None of the players were direct reports or subordinates. Quite the opposite, some of them had even a much higher rank than I had, yet I was in charge of the project and reported to the corporate board. They came from different parts of the world, different factories, different suppliers. That means you can only be successful when they choose to follow you … choose to be led by you. It has a lot to do with integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and the example you give.

Leaders lead. They don’t follow opinions. This statement made by Stanley McChrystal describes it exactly as it is. In order to do so they listen, study, know and understand the facts. They also understand the degree of uncertainty and the impact that might have in any given situation. They are able to do that because they understand, respect, and accept their group as equals and specialists of their own right. That is where the true power of leadership is coming from. That is what gives you leverage as a leader.

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