Thursday, 7 May 2009

What's the source of your leadership power?

This question has been overlooked by many thinkers on L&M over the years. Thankfully not by French & Raven, who's work on The 5 Powers has been very enlightening to many, including me. More of their thoughts coming up. The essence of the issue is this: What makes people follow a leader and what are the pros and cons of these main 'power supplies'? All approaches strategies and techniques have a downside as well as an upside (as my Grandfather used to say, "every silver lining has a cloud") and the effective leader recognises and plans for all the impacts, positive and negative. For example, deciding to reward a talented follower by providing them with the opportunity to train and qualify in something will almost certainly reward them for their commitment, recognise their potential and motivate them to even greater commitment. But what about their colleagues who weren't chosen? What is the nett impact on team performance? Are we actually better off? Well, we certainly could be, but only if the potential for negative impact has been considered and planned for.

French & Raven contended that there are 5 powers -
  1. The power to Reward
  2. The power to Punish
  3. The power of Rank
  4. The power of Expertise
  5. The power of the Role Model

Powers 1 and 2 are often cryptically described as Carrot and Stick. Still hugely popular and present in most organisations. Yet, many would say, their power diminishes with every passing year - leading to bigger and bigger rewards in order to have any motivating effect. A quick trawl through the financial sector and economic news of recent months gives some interesting perspectives on the ethics and effectiveness of financial incentives. While some managers and staff will still 'jump for the jellybeans' its certainly questionable how high and for how long. Are we confident that the overall effect will be positive? With Coercive power, employment law has blunted the edge (and often rightly so) of many of the traditional 'punishments', leaving the threat of disciplinary action or dismissal rather lacking in bite and therefore impact as a motivator to quality and quantity of work. A prosperous economy and the availability of jobs (leaving the current 'blip' to one side) exacerbates the diminishing impact of the threat as a motivator. Most important of all, in a forward-looking and highly-developed society, we surely need to look beyond such unsophisticated and blunt instruments of motivation.

Similarly with power 3, the days of blind obedience to the orders of a 'superior officer' are long gone other than in certain 'command & control' environments.

Which brings us to numbers' 4 and 5 and the crux of this piece. Expertise has huge power. If people believe that you know best, you can be assured they will follow your lead. No coercion or incentives will be needed, they will simply accept your direction. Expertise is a primary generator of one of the biggest motivators of all: trust.

In a similar vein, research from the CMI and many others shows us again and again that the leadership power of being perceived as an effective and admirable role-model is massive and on the increase. If followers believe in a leader and the values and approach they represent - this can motivate, inspire and drive them every minute of every day. This also generates trust and shapes every aspect of performance and behaviour.

So it comes to this.

What is the source of your leadership power?

Can you be proud of it?

Is it numbers 4 and 5?

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