Stages of Power in Leadership and Organizations

The other day I wrote an article on the difference between power over and power with/within leadership approaches. In a nutshell "power over" leadership is all about control and dominance and finding one's source of power from a position, titles, salary, etc. vs. "power with and with" leadership which is all about mutuality and cooperation and finding one's source of power from inside one's own wisdom, self-esteem and humility. 

 (If you missed the article, click here to read it.)

The next logical question is how then do leaders grow from "power over" leadership into "power with and within" leadership. 

The Four Stages of Power in Leadership and Organizations

To fully understand and appreciate that the differences between the two approaches to power isn't about style or personality. It's about maturity and the values that show up in different stages of a leader's growth journey. There are four stages of power in leadership and organizations.

  • Stage 1: Alliance Leadership. This style of leadership is about who you know and where you work.  Power comes by association with powerful people.  Your boss becomes very important to you as you seek to gain what you want by pleasing the right people. 
  • Stage 2: Authoritarian Leadership. This style of leadership is command and control.  These leaders are very connected to their titles, office size and location, money and other symbols of power. They accomplish through others. 
  • Stage 3: Reflective Leadership. These leaders start to realize that Authoritarian leadership only works until it stops working.  They become reflective and search for integrity and wholeness.  They are in an intentional process of finding congruence between internal actions and internal reflections.  Their organizational strength is based on their competence and burgeoning self-awareness.
  • Stage 4: Authentic Leadership. These leaders channel whatever ego and drive they have into the good of others and radically serving others.  They have a purpose beyond themselves.  They are settled in their own skin and can radically support the empowerment of others. 

Leaders in stages 1 and 2 use the "Power Over" approach, leaders in stages 3 and 4 use the "Power With and Within" approach.

The REAL Reason for Leadership Challenges

Leaders, especially seasoned ones, do not become problematic simply because they don't know how to coach their employees or treat people with respect. Their challenges aren't about skill but a failure to mature. 

The #1 root cause to ALL leadership challenges is a when a leader fails to grow out a stage or were over-promoted at a critical phase of their career and didn't have the internal maturity to match their responsibilities. 

There's a myriad of reasons for why a leader will choose to remain stuck and not mature but it all boils down to this: the fear of the unknown. As Marshall Goldsmith brilliantly pointed out that what got you here won't get you there but you know and trust what got you here. 

  • To move from stage 1 to 2, you have to find confidence and grab a hold of an expertise. And that requires risk and letting go of the security of having your own way paved by someone else. 
  • To move from stage 2 to 3 is the biggest challenge of all as you have to let go of your ego and embrace the difficulties that come when this stage stops working. You have to learn to be alone with yourself to sit quietly and listen to your own thoughts and take honest stock of your life. Most high level leaders stay stuck here because they are heavily rewarded to do so. It's an agonizing existential crisis to be told by everyone in your life that you have hit the top of your profession and during nonstop sleepless nights wonder what it was all for.
  • To move from stage 3 to 4 is having to learn how to live a lifestyle of vulnerability. As Brené Brown warns us, if you get into the arena you are going to get criticized. You cannot live a life of authentic service and use your old strategies of protection from connection to one's true self and others at the same time. 

Implications for Consultants and Coaches

You are on the same journey as your clients and you can only invite them to a place that you are willing to go. To this end, you have to make sure your own personal power foundation is strong. 

  • You need to own and develop your expertise as a business owner. Otherwise you'll be tempted to get your security from signing up with a firm or other consultants you can subcontract with which may feel safer in the short-term but won't give you the inner confidence you need to advise stage 2 executives likely on the journey to stage 3 (the MOST common time high-achieving professionals seek help)
  • You also need to take your place as expert and thought leader in the market which will enable you to complete the work of stage 2. What this looks like is investing properly in your online presence, creating blog posts and videos and marketing yourself.
  • You also need to embrace your own stage 2 to 3 journey and find the courage to go within. This uncomfortable experience is both disruptive in terms of it reveals things in your heart you might have preferred to keep buried and enticing in that it inspires you to see your true potential as a business owner, coach and consultant and human being.
  • You need to recognize the pitfalls of being a caged 2 leader when you're working your clients and not collude with them that short-term profits and building their bank account is all that there is. You are in a unique position to help them use the challenges that they bring you in to solve as catalysts to win both at business and at life. 

The Bottom Line

People who change the world are the expert harnessers of power in that they know match their actions with reflection, their capacity to achieve with their capacity to love. 

And they are also exposers of the abuse of power that comes from caged stage 2 leaders. 

Martin Luther King, Jr said it best, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

The questions I'll leave you with is this:

  • What type of difference do you want to make with your clients? What transformation do you want to invite your clients into?
  • Are you leading the way in how you handle your own power and business development?

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