Many have said that leadership is essentially influence. If forced to define it in a word, I agree that “influence” is a good choice. In reality, the work of leading self and others is much more complex, but, in simplest terms leadership is essentially the ability to influence your self and others toward some future goal or vision. Recently, I ran across a presentation that explored an additional dimension that must be considered in the leadership-influence relationship: The role of POWER. We often talk about leadership as influence, but I sense that many of us are afraid to acknowledge that power is a very real part of the leadership equation. Why? Because I think “power” has developed a bad connotation.
When you think of the word “power,” what comes to mind? Strength? Intensity? Yes, those are valid connections. Put the term “power” in an organizational context, though. When someone says, “Margaret has real power in that division,” what is the unspoken message? Or, if you hear, “John powered his way through that negotiation,” what do you envision happened? The mental images turn negative rather quickly, don’t they?
Either way, it is hard to deny the relationship between leadership, influence,… and power. We all recognize that a leader has influence–and influence is the ability to change people’s thinking and actions. Anyone who has the ability to change people’s thinking and actions has power.
Below is a way to visualize this relationship between leadership and power.1 Notice that power can be used in two ways. First, if power is used to help other people it is empowering. Leaders who use their leadership to increase others’ ability to influence people’s thinking and actions are empowering. They essentially give power away. However, if power is used to help yourself, it is overpowering. This is often called “dark leadership.” Overpowering leaders, or dark leaders, take power away from others. Their focus is only on personal ambitions.
So what is the distinction between empowering and overpowering leaders? Simple. Values. Whatever it is that you, as a leader, hold most dear and important in your life is what will determine whether your leadership is empowering or overpowering.
Are you all one or the other? Is any individual entirely empowering or overpowering? No. To be honest, we all vacillate in our use of power, and move between empowering and overpowering leadership. We are all selfish to a degree. We all have the ability to be altruistic and caring of others. But, left to our own devices, the scale would certainly tip toward overpowering. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). Fortunately, we are redeemed by God’s grace through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24).
How can you maximize your knowledge of this leadership-power model? Commit time to consciously consider what values you hold and how they affect your expression of leadership, influence, and power. When you find yourself creating an environment in which others have more control and influence over their situation, what was most important to you then? When you find yourself overpowering someone, what values are operational? What was most important to you at that moment?
Here is a challenging exercise: Sit down with your spouse or someone who knows you very well and ask, “Based on your observation of my life, my decisions, and my words and actions, what do you believe is most important to me?” Ask this question of two or three people and you will begin to develop a very clear picture of what your values are.
It might help to have a definition of values. Here is my definition:
Values are the ideals and principles that we hold most dear and that direct daily choices and actions.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo “Lightnings” by Marko Cvejic. Available at Flickr.com.
1: The “Leadership-Influence-Power” model belongs to Jeremie Kubicek, GIANT Worldwide (2011).