Do You Have the Power
We often confuse leadership with management. Too many outstanding managers are thrust into positions of leadership and fail miserably. Effective leadership has little to do with the ability to manage. Nothing says an effective leader can’t manage but they are two different functions.
Let’s take a look at an example that might help clear up the distinction. Consider a large tax preparation firm with 10 clerks and a supervisor. The supervisor is responsible for overseeing the work of the clerks, answering questions, monitoring productivity, etc. Yet, among the clerks, there is one person whom everyone else goes to when they have a question. That person gets more work done with more accuracy than the others. It’s the person that the other clerks want to go to lunch with, the person that is the “unofficial” spokesperson for the department.
The supervisor, because of the position, is the head of the department. While he does have a leadership role, it is due solely to the position. The supervisor has authority but little power. The employee has an ability to influence peers in the department. They look up to her and respond to her directives. They see what she is capable of doing and strive to meet those standards. The employee has power but little authority.
Power is the ability or capacity to act in ways which influence the behavior of others. It has little to do with the position you hold inside or outside of an organization. Power is a measure of your effectiveness, your ability to achieve results and to motivate others. Power is something you are granted by those over whom you have influence. You must earn it; power can’t be taken.
Authority, on the other hand, results from position. In an attempt to manage and control the organization, authority to make decisions and resolve disputes is assigned to individuals. Authority is not always assigned to those who have power. Often it is assigned for very different reasons.
Successful leaders possess a great deal of power, whether or not they have much authority. Simply holding a position of authority is little assurance that you wield much power.
Dysfunctional leadership is most often found among managers with little power who depend upon their position to exercise authority. The unfortunate result is the deterioration of what ever power they had. When people are subjected to the constant abuse of authority as a way to achieve results, they develop all sorts of defense mechanisms to protect themselves. The harder the authoritative leader pushes, the more determined the employee is to push back. The symptoms one sees when authority is abused is high turnover, grievances, absenteeism, and a lack of cooperation. Authority diminishes rather than enhances productivity and creativity.
Formal leaders who have both power and authority are effective because they use authority only a last resort. They’ve developed an atmosphere of mutual trust and cooperation where everyone knows what’s at stake and wants to contribute to success. In a climate of trust and dignity, people will work and achieve because of the value they place on themselves and on the goals of the organization.
Authority fills a necessary role and leaders should not shy away from its judicial use when necessary. Leaders who have developed and been granted power will find the use of authority less often necessary. Succeeding in a highly competitive and changing environment means everyone must be focused on customer satisfaction and productivity. Leaders whose behavior encourages people to create and embrace innovative ways of approaching their work will ultimately win the battle. In the words of Dwight Eisenhower, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”