Whenever we think of the word power there may be a tendency to associate it with egotistical politicians who focus more on their own aspirations than the needs of their constituents. Alternatively we may interpret power as the key ingredient of a financial capitalist who is solely & utterly focused on achieving profit at any cost, climbing over anyone who stands in their way. There are of course many other analogies and examples.
Gary Hamel, recently ranked by the Wall Street Journal as the world’s most influential business thinker wrote that power is regarded as morally corrosive, and in the main this is probably an accurate reflection as he also associates a lust for domination with those who seek to rule others.
However like most methods of influence, authority and control- power can be harnessed and exercised in very positive ways as well as in an abusive fashion.
Jeffrey Pfeffer, a world renowned business theorist and the author of over 150 articles and 14 books believes that it takes power to get things done. Without it he believes you are useless, impotent, and no matter how virtuous your beliefs or the level of your ability you cannot be effective without it.
Is he right?
Perhaps so -though I resolutely believe it isn’t what power you hold it is how you apply it. Yes I agree power can often give those in command an authoritative divinity where their directives are probably carried out unquestionably however many “dutiful” subordinates may be scornful of such treatment. As a result they may not follow you, their leader, with an unwavering conviction. Consequently they may stop believing in you and your vision. That’s a showstopper for many leaders.
Suddenly your chain of command becomes fractured through a reluctance to follow at any cost. Doubt may be cast over you as their boss and your ability to lead successfully. The danger is exacerbated as your own perception doesn’t reflect what’s really happening “on the streets”.
Indeed in order for power to be an uncontested component of leadership it relies very heavily on the mutual interchange of respect. If you have earned the respect of your team and you equally respect their ability, their wisdom and most important their individuality, the power you exert and equally the way you use it will undoubtedly be as effective as it could ever be, and as it should ever be.
Power and respect go hand in glove. Power without respect is exposed, prone to failure and ultimately unsustainable. Power in the right hands however, applied in the right way, can in fact benefit not only a group of individuals but a whole nation and beyond. Examples of such evidence populate our history books and include great statesmen and leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luthor King, Eva Peron, Josip Tito to name a few. Aspiring leaders can perhaps learn as much about the relationship of power and respect from their history books as they can from their modern day leadership manuals.