Leadership is the Wise Use of Power
by Dr. Karen Otazo
"The Truth About Being A Leader... and
Nothing But The Truth"
Niccolo Machiavelli is infamous for writing, “Power
corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” His observations
of the sixteenth century Italian Medici court helped him truly
understand how often power is misused. Yet he also believed that,
with wise use of power, leaders can generate great visions that stir
the souls of others.
You cannot ignore the issue of power as a leader.
On a basic level, you simply have it,
because you get to make decisions and influence outcomes for others.
That is not inherently a good or bad thing, just a fact. The real
issue is how you put that power to use. People often think
of power in negative terms since power is easy to abuse. Being in
charge certainly does require you to take firm control. The key,
however, is to do so with benign or positive intent toward your
followers, rather than narcissistic self interest
Some of us love the idea of power and jump to take
charge. Others are more reluctant to flex our muscles. What we all
have in common is the duty to learn to use power wisely,
balancing any natural tendencies to over- or underuse it. Used to
maximum effect, your leadership power will empower your
organization and its employees. Used carelessly, it will
disempower them, by making them wait for you to make decisions
or by creating fear of disapproval.
You’ll know how you are using the power available to
you by observing your own behavior and getting feedback from
others. Use the following chart to help you think about this. Ask
yourself which column you fall into for each issue. Be honest! Then
ask yourself if that is who you want to be as a leader. If you don’t
like what you see on the chart, start thinking about what you need
to do in order to change. That self-awareness is the first step to
becoming a wise leader.
Underuse of Power
Wise Use of Power
Abuse of Power
Wants someone else to make decisions
Enjoys taking control to ensure the best
results but will let others take the lead when they can
Wants to make all decisions and have the last
Moves at own speed, not checking with others
Vetoes others’ decisions
Won’t set specific expectations/standards
Creates consistency and standards
Demands perfection as the only option
Hates politics; avoids dealing with conflict
Uses politics and relationships to support
Manipulates politics to drive own agenda
People who under use their power tend to want someone
else to make decisions; they move at their own measured or slow
speed without consulting others; or they hate to “play politics.” In
relation to their followers, they may be reluctant to set
expectations and deadlines, give tough feedback, or move people out
when they’re not right for a role.
Abuse of power occurs when a leader demands constant
recognition, perfection, and work done his or her way. Abuse gets
even easier to recognize when leaders use power to demand special
perks for themselves.
For the wise and moderate use of power you need to
set high, but reachable goals and enjoy being in charge and
influencing others. It’s even better when you use your power to set
broad organizational goals which you then translate into specific
actions. It’s also useful to put in place some consistency and
standards which help to sort out organizational politics since that
will lead to fewer special favors.
The good of the organization should always be at the
heart of what you do. For some people, that will mean speaking up
and pushing people in a way that goes against their nature. For
others, it means subduing their natural urge to just take charge and
pull others in their wake. Finding the right balance will ensure
that employees feel secure and cared for as they rise to the
challenges of organizational life.
Although you may have basic power automatically
through your title, true power can only be bestowed on you by the
people you lead. Real power comes from your staff believing in your
expertise, and trusting you as a leader, while knowing that you have
the clout to get things done on their behalf. This makes them want
to follow you. In a
virtuous circle, the more that people want to follow you the more
power you have.
No matter what kind of organization you lead, it’s
how you use power that distinguishes your leadership tenure.