The Power-less leader

Paul Heagen Uncategorized Leave a Comment

A senior executive, especially CEO, of an enterprise is a powerful position.

Which can be its weakness.

I recall a time when a CEO slipped a bit on the newly waxed wood parquet threshold outside his office. He muttered — loud enough for some to hear — how that seemed a bit dangerous.

Sure enough, a week later, after he returned from a business trip, the entire entrance to his office suite had been replaced with coarse-textured imported stone tiles. (I’m surprised someone had not also thought to install a handrail!)

Comical as that may be, positional power is inherent in an upper management position, and can get pretzeled into some strange and costly behaviors. How often have you heard yourself lament: “I never told them to do that!” No, but maybe they thought you did.

Exempting times of acute urgency, great leadership often is not the exercise of power but the restraint of power, a sober respect for how power (a.k.a. force) can make things happen but not always the right things. Moreover, you never get a true sense of people’s commitment to a mission if they are being told, or feeling forced, (or over-reacting ) out of deference to authority or power. People generally do not want to feel someone or something is overpowering them. Power at the right time is appropriate; overused, it can drain morale and breed resentment.

Power, by nature, pushes. Great leadership pulls — pulls by engaging people’s ideas, igniting ownership, leaving room for dissent or dialogue.

How, then, do you keep a leash on positional power, reserving it for when it really matters?

  • Ask questions, relentlessly. Questions help you understand what others are thinking, uncovers issues, builds ownership by others, helps ensure decisions are vetted and weighed.
  • Share power. When power is concentrated it gets amplified, even distorted. When it is shared, it polices itself.
  • Focus on personal power, not positional power. Presence, more than pecking order, is what people really want to be following anyway.

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