Power in Leadership: Some Dangerous Traps
Among the many behaviors and traits associated with leadership, power stands out. It is inherent to the leader's role to be in a position of power and deal with it in many different contexts and relationships. Power is essential to taking charge and driving change. Some people direct its use to the benefit of the employees and the company. Many, however, become more self-focused, excessively proud, impulsive, or even coercive and lose touch with others' needs and points of view. Power is dazzling, and it can easily get to our heads. In this blog post, we invite you to reflect on some of the traps leaders may fall into due to the power they have in their hands and some possible tips to avoid such traps.
The Danger of Self-Focus
Many of us have witnessed people change when they get to positions of power. Research indicates that the feeling of power can make people less attentive to others' emotions and much more focused on their objectives and interests. When leaders lose sight of their team members' perspectives and needs, a natural consequence is a reduction in the whole team's effectiveness. Lower levels of team motivation result in a disconnect from the company's objectives and in poorer performance in the long run.
The antidote to self-focus is empathy. The development of the ability to understand people and their perspectives is crucial to leadership. According to a recent HBR article, some tips are to immerse yourself in other people's jobs and understand their reality, use storytelling to make things personal, and encourage collaboration and interdependence among your team members and the company as a whole. Never forget you need to walk the talk as a leader. Whatever you expect from your subordinates and colleagues needs to be present in your everyday behavior as well.
Power is not Static
Many leaders have an inaccurate perspective of the power they withhold. They have a static view of power. This means that they believe that once they have managed to establish influence, it will never change or fade away. I have witnessed a concrete example when a CEO was replaced in a company I worked for. That person had been influential from day one and was very comfortable with the position of power. When a new CEO was appointed, and this individual was no longer in power, it was difficult for this person to accept that the level of power experienced before was mainly the result of the position and not necessarily a trait of the individual.
Power is dynamic and situational! Leaders need to have a clear perspective of their level of power and avoid the trap of seeing themselves as the only origin of the influence. They need to have clarity and to be able to evaluate what comes with the position and what they bring to the table. To avoid falling into this trap, leaders need to reflect on their need for power, their impact on employees and develop the ability to deal with all the aura that characterizes certain positions critically. Power is a powerful spell, and we need to learn how to use it wisely.
Power is Relational
Your interactions with people in the workplace may enhance or constrain your level of power. Relationships and coalitions are often a major source of support, advice, information, and a lot can be gained from the ability to bond and interact with peers, superiors, employees, board members, and other stakeholders.  You need to invest in building strong relationships in the workplace. "Scope out the landscape." Consider the people who could help you improve, advance your ideas, grow professionally, and become a better person. Invest in those relationships, and remember you will also be that someone to another employee or colleague. Be a mentor and also help others grow and advance. Help create value not only for yourself but also for those around you. This increases trust and is beneficial to individuals and companies as a whole.
Additionally, look for insights from your team members or key members of the company. Invite them to collaborate on the solutions that you are looking for. The more we build those solutions, the more involved and committed we will be when it all gets implemented. And the stronger the relationships you will make along the way.
Have you considered how power-driven you are? Have you had a boss to whom power was the main thing? If so, how did you feel and cope as an employee? Leave a comment here or send us an email at email@example.com.
Dr. Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, an advisory group specialized in assessing the essential elements for organizations and leadership effectiveness. Extensive experience in leadership development and business management with over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive. Vera is highly skilled in leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a strong and charismatic leadership style.
_________________________________________________________________________  Battilana, J. & Casciaro, T. (2021). Don’t let power corrupt you. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 11/03/2021. Don’t Let Power Corrupt You (hbr.org).  Lingo, E. L. & McGinn, K. L. (2020). A New Prescription for Power: Spend less time exerting control and more time mobilizing energy and commitment. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 11/04/2021. A New Prescription for Power (hbr.org)