At this point, the results are not yet in. But no matter what your leaning, in politics today it is clear that there are some serious and unpredictable power plays going on. We witness politicians drunk on power and greedy for influence, but to the detriment of their constituents. In the corporate world too, the desire for power can end up making monsters instead of leaders.
From the over-reaching Michael Gove to the relentless Donald Trump, when does the need for power overtake or outweigh the ability to lead? And how do you stay true to the intentions of those who support you and the wider community, when it is all too easy to rest at personal satisfaction?
“For the past 20 years, I have studied a deep irony – the power paradox. The power paradox is this: We gain power and the capacity for influence through social practices that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, open mindedness, fairness, and generosity,” writes Dacher Keltner in Fortune Magazine. “And yet, once we gain power, success, or wealth, those very practices vanish, leaving us vulnerable to impulsive, self-serving actions, and empathy deficits that set our fall in motion.”
In turn, when business leaders do not have the respect of their people, they are only harnessing a negative power. This type of leader motivates employees to perform by threatening them with job losses and other punishments, or by showing favouritism to certain employees rather than recognising the hard work of the many. Not only does the quality of work produced decrease, but it leads to higher staff turnover rates.
So how can we use power for positive action? According to John Langhorne, author of Beyond Luck: Practical Steps to Navigate the Path from Manager to Leader, one definition of leadership is to understand and use power wisely. However, he also agrees that it is no mean feat.
He writes: “Certainly, the use of power is obvious in a reduction in force, a pay freeze or the separation of an employee. But these examples only provide specific situations where the results are generally negative. Perhaps such easily recalled examples are the reason discussions of power are difficult.”
Positive power in an organisation involves encouraging productivity; giving employees the power to make decisions, rewarding employees for strong performance and appointing employees who perform strongly to supervise other employees. As a natural consequence, employees feel more confident and motivated to work hard, while senior management gain respect.
It’s a fact that employee retention rates are higher when employees are empowered enough to raise concerns and work as a team. A 2014 study by Gallup discovered companies that increase their number of talented managers and double the rate of engaged employees achieve, on average, 147% higher earnings per share than their competition.
“Power can indeed lead to paradoxical and ironic effects, in which the very skills we lean on to gain power vanish in our own sense of success and superiority,” continues Keltner. “We can avoid such falls from power through giving our power away, in minor acts of gratitude, generosity, praise, and collaboration.”
It is on this sentiment that our Leadership Development Programmes were built. During these programmes, we challenge leaders to tap into their power without overstepping their boundaries. We examine behaviours, communication styles and relationships, while discussing the positive impact of authenticity. Mixing a team of professionals together, different perspectives are brought to the table.
Power can be transient. Therefore, a strong leader knows when and how to make the most of it, and that its purest and most enduring form comes from within. On the eve of discovering one of the most monumental election results in recent years, it is worth remembering that the greatest power we can bring as a leader starts from an authentic place; by being true to ourselves we are best placed to be true to the potential of others.