What You Should Know About Power, Leadership and Consulting

At the end of the day, executive leadership is about power.

The quality of an executive isn't defined by whether or not they take the time to get to walk their areas and get to know their employees personally. The quality of a leader also isn't defined by how motivational their speeches are or how shrewd their policies are or how fast they can deliver results.

Instead, the quality of an executive is defined by where they get their power and if they use the power that they hold to make decisions that benefit the entire realm that they are in charge of: employees, customers and shareholders.  

Related: Five Essential Competencies for Executive Leadership

The Two Kinds of Power

There are two kinds of power: Power Over and Power With and Within.  

"Power Over" leadership is:

  • All about control and dominance.
  • The source of power is outside oneself in position, titles, budget, etc.
  • The use of power is all about control - through having more of it than others and possible use of force, discipline, persistence, non-emotional responses and regulation.

How "Power Over" leadership plays out:

  • Relates to a boss in an "under" position - struggles with feelings of powerlessness.
  • Relates to direct reports as extensions of oneself - expects compliance to directives and discourages real conversations about differences of opinion.
  • Relates to peers from a competitive perspective in which there are winners and losers - may be territorial and combative if position in company is threatened.

"Power With and Within" leadership is:

  • All about mutuality and cooperation.
  • The source of power is inside oneself - in one's wisdom, self-esteem and humility.
  • The use of power is all about contribution - through offering of oneself and one's gifts; finding places of commonality and mutual support of goals and interests.

How "Power With and Within" leadership plays out:

  • Relates to a boss from a position of equality - seeks to understand boss' perspective while maintaining his or her own.
  • Relates to direct reports as a facilitator - seeks and considers input from direct reports. Looks for win-win solutions. Encourages diversity of opinion.
  • Relates to peers by looking for commonality and win-win solutions. Seeks to understand respect other perspectives while maintaining his or her own. Finds ways to work together for the greater good.

Implications of the Two Power Types to Consulting

There are two things to keep in mind about power as you go about your consulting and coaching.

First, you need to make sure you personally have made the shift from the "power over" to the "power with and within" approach.  

One question I get asked all the time is, "How do you deliver results for a client when you no longer have positional authority?"

The answer is this - cultivate your personal power. Go within and find the source of power that is inside you. This shift in focus is what will equip you to deliver results via influence. 

Second, no matter what solution you deliver for your clients, always keep your eye on how power is played out by your client and the organization he or she leads. For organizations to be both profitable and sustainable, they need to have leaders, especially at the top, whose source of influence is personal power rather than power over.  Personal power is true leadership – the type of leadership that transcends ego and titles and allows individuals to lead from the soul.  Leading by compliance doesn’t work in the long run.  Control doesn’t empower anyone else. 

Related: Five Reasons to Love Corporate Politics

The Bottom Line

We all need to become much more aware of the reality of power and how it is used in organizations.   If organizations do not intentionally develop leaders who have greater personal power, the default position will be the power over model, which is the prevailing perspective of corporate America.  And the power over model is costly to both the bottom line (employees who are less engaged are less productive and less likely to stay), and to the human soul.

Imagine a workplace filled with people who have personal power.   Imagine the creative contribution and soul fulfillment.   Isn’t that where would you would rather work? 


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