Read Ralph's Book The Leadership Maker
Follow Us:
Phone: 207-653-2552

 

Understanding the Power Puzzle

Home > Articles > Business Management


The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

What is the allure of power? After all, once you get to the pinnacle, not only are the burdens great and the thanks few, but seemingly, the only place to go from the top is... down. The draws of power have historically been the thrill of competition, money, recognition, and prestige. Who hasn't heard of the corner office, or the executive dining room? Is there really a downside?

Well, yes. At times, it seems like leadership is just one of those one of those necessary offshoots of powerful positions that only receives attention when done badly. Thankfully, that seems to be changing and leadership has become a recognized requirement at all levels of an organization. Power is necessary; someone has to be in charge, however those who understand what to do and what not to do with their power appear to be the ones with the most engaged followers and the best results.

We all know people who mistakenly still believe that power and leadership ability are solely derived from an impressive title and an upper slot on an organizational chart. The truth is that those things are simply the trappings of higher level positions. Today, if the inhabitants of those offices aren't continually developing as leaders with the corresponding humility to create a collaborative, learning work environment and a shared vision, their organizations and the people in them are not likely to thrive.

Are you aware of the five bases of power? Here are the standard forms of power that are good to keep in mind as we navigate the workplace and our daily lives:

  • Legitimate-formal authority or position
  • Reward-promising or granting something of value to followers
  • Expert-knowledge or skill
  • Referent-personal power and worthiness, likability, charisma
  • Coercive-threats or punishment

The personal sources of power, Expert and Referent, are those that have been found to be most effective and long-lasting. These are the types of power recognized and practiced by strong leaders.

Here are some power examples to consider. Does the name Genghis Khan sound familiar? (His middle name could have been Coercive.) If you've paid any attention to history, you know that his name is synonymous with empire building by terror. Massacre is one way to build power, and in Khan's day, physical force ruled. He certainly proved the rule that power compounds as his armies brutally conquered nomadic tribes and created the Mongol Empire, one of the largest in history. Some still believe that physical force and emotional terror are acceptable means to gain power. In this age of immediacy and exhaustive media coverage, is there anything more alarming than the terrorist actions taking place daily, in places that were once considered safe?

One of my greatest lessons on understanding power was learned while I was still in college. This is truly an example of Expert and Referent power combined with Legitimate. My assigned academic advisor was a professor in the English department. He was a quiet, unassuming man with a highly accomplished scholarly background and a tiny, book-lined office in Massachusetts Hall, the oldest building on campus. When we met to discuss my classes and adjustment to college, the seating was so tight that other students waiting to see him were lined up in the hall, and as we both sat, our knees were nearly touching. There was no room for a third chair. Roy Greason was a tough writing critic and I loved him for it.

The following year, after some administration changes and challenges, my advisor was named president of the college and became President A. Leroy Greason. He chose to keep his existing advisees, and so that year's visits and the subsequent years' visits were held on the top floor of the administration building across campus. The office was large, beautifully furnished, and certainly befitting the president of Bowdoin College. When he asked what I thought, I told him honestly that he was a great choice for the job, but that I would miss visiting him in his old office. He chuckled and said, "So will I. Power isn't always what it's cracked up to be." His humility spoke volumes to me.

I've always been skeptical of the last one, Reward power. It is too often used by weak leaders to develop a following. I've always wondered, once the ability to reward is gone, will the followers still be there? Of course, it is a measure of my own learning to acknowledge that I haven't always been good at legitimately understanding the value of rewards. A congratulatory lunch and shout-out for a job well done do have value, as a thank you and acknowledgment of appreciation. I'm still working on this one.

I consider knowledge and learning to be power. As a life-long learner, I realize how little I do know and how much there is to discover. I put great stock in Expert power, expecting people to know what they're talking about and having a greater level of knowledge as leaders, but I will admit that isn't always possible to be an expert in everything. I'm often less respectful of Legitimate power than I should be (let's just say it's a pattern...) because I've seen far too many people with positional power who just don't understand the value of leadership. Perhaps that's an article for another day, after I've solved the power puzzle.

Thank you for reading it. Your feedback is welcome.

5 (4)


deb

Deb Sparrow



Deb Sparrow worked in financial services senior leadership for over 25 years. She is a firm believer that "the universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart" as she explores the fork in the road and writes about it from time to time. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's inaugural Executive Leadership series. Follow her on LinkedIn at Deb Sparrow worked in financial services senior leadership for over 25 years. She is a firm believer that "the universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart" as she explores the fork in the road and writes about it from time to time. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's inaugural Executive Leadership series. Follow her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborah-sparrow/.

Comments

 

Submit A Comment:





 

 

Preparation for Building a Culture


Every Year Tells a Story


The Pillars of Organizational Culture


Magic - What is in this book?


Dunning Kruger Effect


The language of leading through caring (part II)


Why does a flourishing organization matter?


Peer Communication and Care


Communications That Can Enhance your Relationships


Persistence: A Vital Leadership Quality


Increasing Meeting Participation


Communications


Time for a Paradigm Shift


Delegation


Mind-Mapping