Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Leadership Versus Power

Regardless of our current employment status (executive, individual contributor, stay at home spouse, etc), each of us is presented with opportunities in both our personal and professional lives to lead on a daily basis. Those of us who take such responsibility seriously create opportunities to lead vice waiting for them to be presented to us (i.e. Teaching our child, volunteering at charitable organization, leading a working group of peers to address strategic issues, etc). Those of us who strive to enjoy a degree of success in our leadership endeavors lean towards demonstrating leadership, while others focused on control are ore comfortable exerting power.

Leadership is influencing others with or without the benefit of a formal platform or charter, while power is getting others to do things because of one's formal platform or charter. Clearly, a position of power facilitates the demonstration of leadership, but it is not required. Likewise, a position of leadership is undermined when exertion of power is the tool of choice.

For those of us living the nomadic lifestyle of service member, we see Shipmates come and go each executing the same exact charter but employing different philosophies and achieving varied levels of success. We have the benefit of learning through the successes and failures of others and the opportunity to emulate those who we admire most. Though, we need not rely on the workplace to see examples...

Yesterday, as I checked on for my flight to Norfolk, the gentleman in front of me took issue with the extra fee he was being asked to pay for his "excessively heavy" bag. The airline employee notifying him of the news did so in a manner that was reminiscent of playground taunting. Clearly, she enjoyed her position of relative power and yet was unable to "influence" her customer. Just as it appeared a real scene was unfolding, the gentleman's wife assumed the leadership role. She offered her lighter bag and had her husband move a portion of his belongings into it.

End Result: No scene, no baggage fees and an example to the power hungry airline employee of how a leader might handle the same situation.

Every day, each of us has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and/or exert power. Done properly, the means enables the desired end. Done forcibly, the means may prevent the very end we desire. If one is able to achieve the objective solely through the exertion of power, negative second and third order effects are a given. Choose wisely.

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