Powering the Leadership Spotlight

Wise leaders understand and obtaining power at many levels. While the opening statement may sound Machavellian and turn away, power is necessary to influence others to accomplish tasks that grow and improve the organization. Leaders set agendas. Without power, organizations deteriorate or cease to exist. Leaders do not work alone. If you want to lead you need to acquire and harness power.

Power focuses organizational energy. Think of power like a spot light. The leader focuses the light in the direction he wants the followers to go, illuminating the objective. Without a power source there is no light to focus, no objective to achieve.

In an organization leaders often have one or more power sources available to accomplish goals of the organization. The common power sources include, referent, expert, coercive, legitimate and reward. A short description of each and their uses follow.

Referent power is likability. A more common word, is charisma. This source of power may get you in the door, but rarely lasts long except with those who are weak.

Expert power stems from one’s ability to do well or have specialized knowledge. This provides power in two ways. The first is like the artillerymen of old who guarded the secrets of their craft so their skills would always be in demand by armies. The second yet potentially fleeting source is through the ability to teach others your skill or knowledge. When you share those secrets that have made you successful, you have the potential to create rivals and replacements. Alternatively, you could also develop collaborators who desire to achieve more than either of you could alone.

Legitimate, reward and coercive often go together but not always. Legitimate power is granted when awarded a leadership position within an organization. CEOs have legitimate power to run their cooperation. They also possesses the ability to dole out rewards such as pay raises, promotions and prime parking spaces. On the coercive side, is employment termination, demotions and selection of another’s pet project. Reward and coercive power does not solely rest with formal leaders. Sales reps can influence behavior by offering a better price or withholding the latest product based on previous purchasing decisions.

Power is a tool. If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem or opportunity looks like a nail. However the skilled carpenter with a small complement of tools is capable of building beautiful things. Between his experience and tools he can fashion wood into anything he can imagine. Take another person with a workshop full of tools and no skills. This person would have difficulty building a simple wooden box.

Leaders need to develop a full complement of power sources to influence others. They must learn how to obtain, develop and use each tool. As they practice they will find that the tool they used to accomplish a task with one piece of wood, will not work so well with another piece. One version of a tool may not be capable of completing every job much like using a framing hammer to drive a tack. A tack hammer is the better choice.

As leaders practice their leadership skills they increase the power options available. Using a variety of tools shape followers into quality employees, volunteers and future leaders. When they show those future leaders how to use the full spectrum of leadership powers, they prepare the organization for continued success well into the future as new leaders learn to adjust the focus and intensity of the organization’s spotlight.

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