Simply defined, power is ability. When we say someone has the power to do something, what we really mean is that they either have the ability to accomplish that thing through their own actions or that they have the ability to cause that effect to happen.
Isn’t that ability exactly what we expect from our leaders?
There are really two types of power, neither intrinsically good nor bad. Both can be effective and are important for leaders to master.
It is important, however, to understand the difference and use them appropriately.
Most of us have been conditioned to think of power as something you use to force or control people and outcomes.
Which may be why there is so much consternation about the best way to empower people in our organizations.
Because we’ve all seen situations when people in a position to use force or control misused that power, and the outcomes weren’t pretty.
Wielding force or control over others is a form of external power. While this type of power is the most easily misused, that isn’t really why you should not depend on it to get things done.
An organization whose leadership is dependent on this type of power will soon notice that their leaders are tired, frustrated, and burned out while their teams are confused, fearful, disengaged, and defensive.
Even when it is used responsibly, exerting external power places a high demand on the leader’s energy and results in division and distrust between the leader and their team.
Dependence on external power is also at the root of some of the leadership traits most often cited as reasons for employee turnover or lack of employee engagement.
Leaders who rely on external power tend to believe that people will respond more quickly and effectively to orders, criticism, and penalties for missing the mark.
These leaders are prone to micromanaging, manipulation, lack of communication and transparency, and lack of clear, attainable goals.
External power is unsustainable over any length of time because most leaders will burn out and most team members will emotionally disengage or leave.
Unlike external power, internal power is something that is developed through self-awareness and consistent, intentional shifts of thought, habit, and behavior.
Leaders who get results from this inner source of power have equal or greater ability to act or effect change, and they also have the ability to achieve results that external power can never accomplish.
Developing internal power, or personal
Leaders who are in possession of internal power are more confident without resorting to arrogance, more persuasive without resorting to manipulation, and more compassionate without resorting to passive-aggressive behavior.
Because these leaders do not need to resort to exerting force or control, they experience greater employee engagement, increased trust and interdependence with their teams and peers, and a heightened level of satisfaction and job fulfillment for themselves and those they lead.
Just as importantly they do not experience the energy drain or burnout that we usually see in leaders who believe they must rely on external sources of power.
External power is often used by people who are not in touch with their natural personal power or who are placed in a culture where the only recognized power is through the ability to force or control others.
It’s important to understand that leaders who use external power are not bad people, they aren’t even always bad leaders. But the results they achieve are neither ideal nor sustainable.
These same people, when their personal power is nurtured and accessible to them and the culture they are in supports true leadership, often become strong, effective leaders who are passionate, energized, engaged, and committed.
– prioritize the development and synthesis of individual talents,
– build a culture based on equality, inclusion, collaboration, and respectful, even joyful, human interaction,
– and achieve sustainable growth through fully empowered leadership…
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