It’s Not About Power, It’s About How You Use It

When you hold people’s destiny in your hands, it is easy to get carried away. The heady rush of power, the feeling of supremacy fuelled by the fact that sometimes your subordinates only tell you what they think you want to hear, can often lead you astray.

Leadership is about developing people and getting them to give their best in the pursuit of a common goal. It is seldom about promoting sycophancy or one-person rule or dictatorship no matter how imperative that may seem.

The climb to the higher echelons of corporate leadership can be arduous and painstaking. Understandably, when you reach a leadership position that you have always aspired for, the intense feeling of accomplishment and achievement can be a heady mix.

Add to this the power that suddenly comes into your hand and if you are not a level headed person then it could sway you completely. This happens not only in corporate life but also in many other walks of life including the entertainment industry and politics.

There is an old saying that goes-

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

So why is it important to continue to be level headed even when you achieve something really big in life? Why is it important to remember that power is a means to an end and not an end in itself as it sometimes becomes?

1. Being nice is a necessity, not a luxury

There is a saying that goes-

Be nice to people on your way up. These are the same people you will meet on your way down.

But the ‘being nice’ does not stop with your journey to the top, instead, you need to continue being nice to people if you really want to motivate them to give their best. Motivation and inspiration can be through positive reinforcement or through penalties for negative behaviour.  Both these techniques are used by people but positive reinforcement works a lot better because it recognises people’s basic craving for appreciation.

When you exhibit abrasive behaviour that has little regard for people, the people who follow you or work for you tend to be in an anger avoidance behaviour to ensure that they don’t incur your wrath. Think about it – you can’t be right all the time, no matter how good you are. If your own team cannot voice their opinion when you are on the wrong track, then it is to your and your organisation’s detriment.

Go a step further if people in your team who do not understand the spirit behind your decisions or what you are asking them to do, refrain from seeking inputs from you, their efforts are going to be half-hearted. They simply won’t believe in what you have to say. So, how will this help you or your organisation?


2. Good leaders are also active listeners

One of the qualities of good leaders is that they are excellent listeners. There is a reason nature has given us two ears and one mouth. Yet, we tend to speak more than we listen. And, leaders who get carried away by their success tend to do this even more.

Active listening is like paying a person a compliment. When leaders listen to their followers not only do they learn more and motivate better but they also inspire their followers with their attention.

As a leader, you have the power to stifle conversation and be in a talking or command mode. This works in some extreme situations only. For instance, if you are in the armed forces and need to respond to enemy aggression, this may be the right mode of operation. However, the corporate world is not a war zone and applying this behaviour to it leads to discontentment and disillusionment.


3. Dissent is healthy

If you insist on hearing only those people who are in agreement with you and ignoring others who do not conform to your opinions, you may miss out on valuable constructive feedback. It is better to know about things before they go wrong or while there is still an opportunity to correct it, rather than when it is too late to do anything about them.

When you encourage constructive dissent it creates a healthy environment in your organisation and allows people to express themselves. In the process, people get aligned to a common goal and start to see the big picture.


4. Your leadership style has to be dynamic

In every organisation, there is a mix of people. Some people need to be empowered and they will put in superlative efforts to get phenomenal results. They only need to understand and identify with their goals. If you micromanage such people you will end up frustrating them and in the process, their performance could suffer.

Then there are others who need to be told what to do every step of the way. Unless you monitor them closely, work won’t get done. If you apply the same yardstick you use to deal with this kind of people, with people who are self-motivated, the results could be disastrous.

Consequently, your style has to be constantly changing and evolving to be in line with what the situation demands. If you use just one style it could be not only to your detriment but also to your organisation’s detriment.

5. Leadership is about issues and not personalities

I once worked briefly with a leader who was not only intolerant of any opinion contrary to his own but also become vindictive towards the person who had dared to express a dissenting opinion. Understandably some of the best people in his team were frustrated. No one wanted to be the one to tell him when something was going wrong. As a result by the time he came to know of any issue, it was usually so serious that resolving it became practically impossible.

The fact is leadership is about focusing on issues and resolving them and not about surrounding yourself with people who mirror your personality. While it may be comfortable to work with such people the fact remains, there is no single personality type that is best in the corporate world. Ultimately it takes all types to come together to really achieve lofty goals.

As a leader, you have the power to select and build your own team and if you don’t exercise this right judiciously, you could weaken your own organisation and limit what you can actually achieve.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people–Eleanor Roosevelt

6. Good leaders lead by example

The best way to instil a behaviour in others is by demonstrating it yourself. If you as a leader want people in your team and organisation to pursue excellence demonstrate first how you pursue excellence by your actions. Then, you won’t have to keep saying it.

If you as a leader operate autocratically, you will soon find managers in your team doing pretty much the same thing that you are doing.

7. Good leaders are ready to admit their mistakes

When you are open to owning your mistake as a leader, you display the human element of management. People identify with people who are open and accept their mistakes. Such people come across as genuine. As a leader, it makes you even more credible.

Strangely enough, I have come across subordinates taking the blame for a leader’s mistake simply because the leader was unwilling to accept that he or she had made a mistake in the first place.

Think how damaging this can be to the psyche of the employees whose only effort would then be to somehow avoid making any mistake and maintain a low profile.

On the other hand, when a leader accepts his or her mistake openly it signals a healthy culture where performance is the key and making mistakes in the pursuit of excellence, acceptable.

8. Great leaders share the glory with people who made it possible

Mega success in particular and any success in an organisation generally, is never the outcome of a single person’s effort. The fact that you as a leader are responsible for a business does not take away the fact that a lot of people’s effort enables a success.

Some of the finest leaders I had the privilege of working for were very quick to share credit for achievements with people who were responsible for it. At the same time, they would try not to penalise anyone who had made a mistake while genuinely trying to do something innovative.

When a leader takes all the credit for his or her team’s work it could leave the team feeling very disillusioned.

As a leader try and use your power judiciously to really benefit the people that you lead and the society at large. If you are on your way to being a leader then try and learn somewhere along your way not to let the power that you will enjoy turn you into something that you are not.


This article first appeared on LinkedIn


About the Author:

Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience spanning 24 countries.

Srinivasan R

Management Consultant at Independent Consultant