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Power, Management and Leadership

Submitted by on Friday, 27 September 20132 Comments

Many leadership development programmes will typically begin with an overview of some of the differences between management and leadership.

However, in our brave new world, where VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) reigns supreme, we believe that contrasting management and leadership as part of making sense of the latter is no longer enough. It is vital to understand one other ingredient before even these two: power.

Now we touched on power in a previous post and received feedback that it would be useful for further clarification as to what exactly we mean. So this post will at least begin to address that (for a full, hands-on understanding please join our Leadership Challenge Workshop).

What is Power?

Put simply, power manifests itself in two ways – ego attachment (the Self) and power over others. Often, one causes another and then loops back to reinforce the other – so a person who use excessive power will be seen as ‘having a big ego’.

power, management and leadership

During the course of a typical day every person will experience both types of power – guaranteed. We are, after all, not in nirvana! But it’s the lack of awareness of this power that will prevent us from being – and acting – as leaders. Please bear with us as we explain.

Power and the Self

Back to the VUCA world in which we now exist and try to operate as professionals. During the course of the day, we will experience many pushes and pulls as all our priorities hit us in a maelstrom, with little or no sense, and then… bang! – We snap (or may do if we do not practice emotional control).

We reach our limit, and then we might as well forget any concept of leadership or even management for that matter, it’s my way or the highway. 

Now do you see why any leadership development programme needs to start with this fundamental reality? Because you can have any manner of KPIs, systems, processes, and programmes in place – but if the boss is a Dick Fuld or a Jeff Skilling – then nothing is going to change that. Period.

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That is unless your leadership development starts with this reality, and makes power awareness part of your company culture. Then it will change. But that means your leadership development needs to i) start with power awareness, and ii) go from the individual up (not organisation down). And there are no leadership development programmes – not one – that we have seen that do this.

Power and Others

A manager will automatically have certain power over his or her direct reports. Many take this for granted, and there goes that lack of power awareness again.

There’s more to power – as we know. As Charles I once (perspicaciously perhaps?) said: ‘There is more to power than the bidding it be done.’

A leader, instead, asks for permission.

As Aldous Huxley one wrote, liberty is not something given, but taken. A strong leader redresses that imbalance by asking for permission (please see how this concept fits in the ‘co-operate’ phase of our leadership development model here).

And that practice of asking for permission in turn, not only strengthens the leader’s position, but also removes a considerable amount of stress caused by the day-to-day realities of the VUCA world. In other words, we move from a power doom loop, to a leadership ‘flywheel effect’, where capabilities can actually be multiplied.

The illusion of power

But doesn’t using power over others, without permission, make us feel good?

This is a great question and we’ll be looking at it in due course with reference to  the movie The Matrix. In the meantime, we’ll say that this is nothing more than an illusion – and that two other factors need to be understood in our lives to make sense of why we should strive to avoid the illusion of power – reality and truth.

More of that anon. In the meantime, why not stay tuned to our posts by subscribing below?


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