Power & Leadership

By Renee Booth

Whenever I speak about the use of power in leadership, many become uncomfortable.  Power is a loaded word because, at its core, it involves controlling and influencing others.  Since we have seen so many examples of the abuse of power both in work environments and in the world at large, it can be easy to forget the importance of using one’s power to make things better for everyone.  Leaders who either do not have the skills or the courage to use their power miss extraordinary opportunities to make a meaningful and lasting difference.

I’ve seen leaders who are committed to things such as diversity, for example, use their power to diversify their senior leadership teams by by-passing traditional organizational processes and norms to just get it done.  I worked with one CEO a few years back who believed that her organization needed to expand globally to protect the brand and thrive in the future.  Without the full commitment and endorsement of her leadership team, she proceeded to hire a senior leader from the outside instead of promoting an internal candidate.  In the face of considerable adversity and without the full buy-in of her leadership team, she simply made the decision to build a global brand.  Even though she persuaded some, she made the tough call on her own, exercising her power as the CEO.  The results ultimately paid off, since her organization now dominates the global marketplace.

Once a leader gets into a position of power, it can be tempting to avoid jeopardizing his/her job security by minimizing disruption and not making waves.  The use of power is no small thing, and can have severe consequences if not executed properly.    However, the effective use of power, rather than its abuse, is often how important and lasting change happens in organizations.  The effective use of power can help innovate industries, change organizational cultures, and introduce policies and practices that make a company best in class.  If you are in a position of power and influence as a leader, it is critical that you demonstrate the courage to use your power wisely when it is needed for the good of the organization.  From my perspective, it is in fact your responsibility to do so.  Power is not a dirty word.  In fact, when those with power do not use it well, they can actually create fertile ground for others to abuse their power.  I believe strongly that the judicious use of power is essential to making organizations great.


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