Leadership and power is often mistakenly taken for a synonym! The fact is that power is part of the leader’s toolkit. In other words, power is a subset of leadership which come in different shapes and sizes. For that reason, it’s very important that we all understand the probability of reaching our objective. This is based on the form and intensity of the power we utilize in a given situation.

We also need to recognize that these relationships are very complex and almost impossible to master, meaning making a perfect prediction every time!

As a leader, you really need to appreciate the reality that there isn’t a one size fit all here!

I would like to explore with you a common workplace scenario. I’m confident to say that if you haven’t observed this situation yet, you will. I personally observed it over and over throughout the years. It clearly demonstrate the misunderstanding of the relationship between leadership and power!

This scenario is the first phase that many leaders will need to overcome in order to progress on their leadership journey.

So let’s start with the scenario:

Upon your first leadership assignments, you, as a young leader go through various emotional states. You were pretty excited because you’ve been trying to reach a leadership position within your organization for many years. Concurrently, you have a lot of worries and you keep wondering if you’re actually capable of leading your team towards success and ultimately reaching the organizational goal. The ultimate reason you were put in that leadership position.

Your desire to impress, especially your superiors, is at its peak. Your natural response is to use an autocratic leadership style. You are very committed at laying down the law sort of speak. Your subordinates might go as far as labeling your style as just dictatorship! A few months go by and you are now fully engaged in your function, your staff don’t do anything right. You find most of them incompetent, and your starting to feel like you need to monitor their every move. Your department is making progress and your pretty happy that.

To some extent you keep things under control. You find that the autocratic leadership style that you are using is pretty effective. Perhaps you’re even entertaining the thought that this is the only effective style. That is reinforcing your belief that being an effective leader requires to use an autocratic form of leadership. So much so that your day to day actions transpire power and letting go of that power is something that you don’t even consider.

Does that sound familiar?

What we didn’t realize is that our autocratic leadership style is the source of our personnel issues. They are simply reacting to our actions. They are not being creative or showing any signs of initiative because our authoritarian behaviors are incompatible with our team members feeling at easy with presenting us with their new creative ideas. We can’t fall into the trap of thinking that they aren’t smart enough or that they don’t have a creative side to them! They do, they simply don’t want to share it with us!

Then, eventually we might make an attempt at using a different style of leadership. Almost like a participative leadership style or Democratic leadership style. Our direct reports have already been well conditioned to keep their ideas to themselves and as a result the objective isn’t reached or takes far too long to do so!

And once again our belief is reinforced and thus we continues to believe that our staff aren’t the smartest individuals and that we really don’t have any other options apart from continuing to run the show. Unless of course, you read this article and are now aware of the underlying forces that are at play!

Some people with leadership positions will never understand the relation between leadership and power. They will never overcome this belief and consequently will strictly use the authoritarian leadership style. Now they have real life experiences to validate their decisions, granted its somewhat biased but they don’t know that! You do, right!

A Side Note

It is common to promote from within and the criteria used is one’s technical abilities without any regards or perhaps with only very minimal importance being put on that individual leadership skills and capabilities. Which actually reinforces, yet again, the belief where one thinks that being an autocratic leader is the only proper way to lead an organization, implicitly being that leadership and power are synonyms.

The technical leaders don’t need to rely on the expertise of their staff, after all the reason they were promoted to a leadership role was because they were one of the expert! So they were already leading the organization from a technical perspective, so they simply continue to do so, but now they have the formal power that the position provides them with and they use it as a convincing tool!