The simple answer –Yes, leaders need power to lead. John Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Therefore, you need power in order to influence others if you want to be an effective leader.
The follow up question that we will explore is what kind of power does a leader need to lead?
There are two kinds of leadership power: those that fade and those that last.
Leadership Power that fades
These are the most often discussed, and unfortunately sometimes the most relied upon forms of Leadership Power. Let’s look at them and see why their effectiveness fades away in time if they are the only method used to influence others.
The Power of Position. In this case, the leader has influence because of their position in the company. They are in charge and can ask others to take actions based on that position. This type of power fades as there is no sense of commitment or connection to a greater good. People only follow because they have to, not because they want to.
“Leadership is action, not position.” – Donald H. McGannon
The Power of Perks. All leaders can give away perks: raises, bonuses, vacation etc… None of these is bad in and of itself but realize as a leader, you will get the behavior you incent. Your influence with this type of power fades as the commitment isn’t to the ultimate outcome, but to the immediate individual benefits. When you rely too much on rewards you may find that people are working only for their rewards, which means decisions may be made that do not reflect the best answer for the team, company, customer, or shareholder.
“The reward of a thing well done is having done it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Power of Punishment. This is the opposite of the power of perks. This enforces consequences for behavior you don’t want. While your influence with this power will lead to short-term compliance, it will eventually create an atmosphere of insecurity and fear. People will become so afraid to make a mistake they will cease to make decisions and only do what they are specifically told by the leader.
“Nothing is more deflating to morale than to have a poor outcome pinned on someone who doesn’t deserve it. It lacks integrity and overvalues the outcome at the expense of the people.” – Tony Dungy
Leadership Power that lasts
The types of Leadership Power which last, are not often seen as power. In Leadership Power that lasts, the power is shared with others and not maintained by the leader.
The Power of Empowerment. The true measure of a successful leader isn’t what they have – power, possessions, prestige – it is the legacy of empowering other leaders to achieve their own success. Your success as a leader is defined by how many successful leaders you have helped grow. Your influence as a leader will grow because of the success of those you influenced.
“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” – John Maxwell
The Power of Character. This is who you are inside. Your intentions and your actions point in the same direction – helping others’ succeed. With the power of your character you can influence people because of their respect for you.
“A leader…has authority due to their role, but their positional power will not bring about good for individuals or organizations unless it is backed up by the capital of character.” — Dan B. Allender
The Power of Conduct. As a leader you and your team will face many tough circumstances. You will need to influence them to not just survive, but thrive through these times. Your conduct will be the key to their success. When you remain calm, focused on the vision, and help your team find a plan the power of your conduct will be evident.
“Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is our power.” – Benjamin Disraeli