Leadership Power: Grabbed or Granted?


HandsIt is hard to deny the connection between leadership and power. Depending on your experience and perspective, one or more likely came to mind when you read those two words together. Leaders have and can create power, and they can do it in a variety of ways.

And yet power and leadership are strange bedfellows too.

Because depending on your feelings about power, and the type of power you are thinking about, you could have very different feelings about the leadership that is attached to that power. While the connections are many and the chance for commentary is vast, I want to highlight two ideas and contrast them.

Often here my goal is to give you specific action steps to take; today my aim is different. I want you to reflect on what I am about to share and decide for yourself where that leaves you and what your next steps might be.

The time you spend reflecting on these ideas, and the actions you take might be the most important thing you could do as a leader right now.

Power Grabbed

When leaders think of their role as a noun, as a role or a title, they are often seduced into thinking that because of their leadership role, there is power available for the taking.

The best case scenario of this mind set is one of a leader with good intention. This leader values the goals and mission of the team and because of their belief, wants others to see the value and be believers as well. They feel that the most expedient way to move towards that valuable mission is by leading from their position, being highly directive and expecting others to follow because it makes sense.

I don’t need to give you the worst case scenario, you’ve already formed it in your head.

Whatever the intention, the result is an approach of trying to grab or gain power, and while this has its place (think a crisis situation), in the long term the power grab results in compliance at best.

Followers by compliance will be less engaged and most easily willing to change their path and go in a different direction.

Power Granted

There is a different model of power that some leaders share. It is the idea that leadership isn’t a noun, but rather a verb, and that people follow not because of the role we play, but the way we play the role. Since people are more likely to willing follow people that they know, like and trust, this leads to a different type of power – let’s call it power granted.

Power gained through belief, relationship, trust and confidence given leads to leadership by choice, not by compliance, and has a much better chance of lasting over the long haul.

This approach may seem more passive and less of a guarantee. After all if, I move people through compliance I seem to have more control, don’t I?

While it may seem that way, it is an illusion.

When power is granted, people are following because they want to, they have chosen to. In the end this power will be longer lasting and more valuable than any power ever grabbed or sought.

Now What?

As leaders we have a huge responsibility to help our teams achieve worthy, important and meaningful goals. Power is inherent in that responsibility. The question for today is which type of power are you striving for and achieving, and is it the type you want and need to reach those valuable goals?

If there is a mismatch between what you have and what you want, it’s time for you to get to work and make adjustments. Your team and your goals are worth the effort.

If you want to continue to build your leadership skills, consider joining me for our next Remarkable Leadership Workshop – details and locations can be found here.

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  1. says

    This is so true and I appreciate the time you took to write it so well. I will make one slight addition that I hope is helpful.

    Where you say granted I often describe it as permission (same thing). I tell my student leaders that permission will pull you into leadership. People want to follow you for all of the reasons you mention in your post.

    But there is a push to leadership as well. I agree that grabbing power is a poor form of this. But I think there is a point where a person identifies an area that he or she is passionate about and cared about deeply (this can include people). When a person realizes this, his or her passion may push them to be in a role of greater influence. The trick is to do it for the right reasons and not simply for a sense of power.

    Thanks for providing another great article that made me think. Appreciate you today!


  2. Kate Mahon says

    Leaders (noun) who use (grab) power inherent in their positional authority get compliance often motivated by fear of the followers of consequences of not following. Power based on influence (granted) reaps commitment and creativity of the followers often leading to different and better solutions to problems.

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