The Real Truth About Authority, Power, and Position
You don’t need authority, power, or position to lead. Sometimes they get in the way.
Leading is serving, nothing more, nothing else, nothing less.
Become a leader by serving. The trappings of leadership follow, they don’t precede, service. Servant-leaders use authority, power, and position to serve.
Servants serve, but, servant-leaders enable others to serve. That makes all the difference.
- Give authority, don’t grasp it.
- Reflect praise or credit back on the team.
- Reject the trappings of power in order to identify with the team. Connection is more powerful than exclusion. Weak leaders push others away; strong welcome them in.
- Place organizational interests ahead of your own. Don’t trust self-serving leaders. They’ll step on you.
You lose power when you use power and gain it when you give it. Clinging to authority diminishes authority, giving it increases it.
Successful leaders know the more authority they have, the more they can give.
Servant-leaders gain power by giving it. Everything else is abomination and manipulation.
Fear prevents service, courage enables it.
- Fear of being overlooked invites you to serve yourself rather than others.
- Fear of being under-appreciated prevents you from appreciating others.
- Fear of being overshadowed causes you to cling to the spotlight.
Service is meeting needs. The bigger the needs you meet the greater the leader you become.
People need to feel safe in order to thrive.
Give the gift of safety:
- Safe to standout. Leaders who can’t let others standout, strangle organizations. When the fear of jealousy permeates a team, mediocrity sets in.
- Safe to screw up. People who can’t screw up can’t excel.
- Safe to speak truth to power. Servant-leaders respond to questions and challenges with candor, kindness, and curiosity.
What prevents leaders from meeting the needs of teammates and colleagues?
How can leaders meet needs that allow teammates to thrive?
I agree with you at all levels considering losing power and gaining it! I believe in service first – Leadership comes naturally with it.
Thanks Echo. It feels good to be agreed with… now, I wonder if there are any contrarians in the house?
Although this, as always, is a great post, I will try a contrarian view. 🙂
I get a twinge of discomfort when I see the word power used so often, and in the context of old leadership it is usually tied to money or the ability to direct others unopposed; but, in the context of new leadership it seems to take on a more Buddhist connotation of service and equality and nurturing. I will declare that as a leader in my organization, I have no power. That is not to imply that I feel powerless, which would have emotional and managerial connotations; but rather, I serve the organization by working to meet its goals and remaining in a state of change to perpetuate growth and improvement. There is no lording over others nor is there a zen-like state of servitude. The power is shared. The goals are shared, the organization is shared, all things good bad and indifferent are experienced by the parts (people) and the sum of its parts (the organization) and the greater than the sum of its parts (leadership).
(….there. I tried.) 🙂
Thanks Serena. That’s the nicest contrian view I have ever read! 🙂
When I got to, “The power is shared. The goals are shared, the organization is shared…” KaPow! You nailed it.
Thanks Dan. These posts are a great help. Thanks for your dedication to the field 🙂
What prevents? That many of us are given responsibility without authority. We have no control over time and money resources, so can’t support those we lead properly.
What meets needs? Having peoples’ backs when they do their best. That if anything goes wrong, when someone on high asks “why did they do that?” your people know you will say “because that’s what *I* would have done”.
Thanks Mitch. I feel the passion in your comment and love it!! 🙂
Having people’s backs creates safe environments where people can thrive.
Ok I’m a contrarian. However I can’t find anything you said to disagree with but on the contrary (see I told you) I have to agree with your statements. Love reading your postings.
Thanks Ron. I feel like I started chasing my tail when I read your comment. 🙂 Much appreciated.
A great, thought stimulating article..
The fear section is very valuable.. even after years in leadership positions I still feel the tugs of these fears, and they can be quite debilitating.. (for me) they mask themselves as disloyalty/betrayal and can bring genuine hurt, that I (we) must keep in proper perspective.
Focusing beyond ourselves is where the battle is won.
Thanks Ken. I’m with you. It seems there is a difference between what my head tells me and what my fears tell me. My head says, “don’t worry about getting the credit.” My fear says, “You better look out for yourself.”
Your suggestion to focus beyond ourselves is helpful to me. Thanks
I really enjoyed this article – thank you! Having done some research on servant leadership, and having chafed at the word “servant” in the past, I like that this becomes part of the leadership conversation. It can go against what we are taught in the highly competitive business environment we live in. You pose the question: What prevents leaders from meeting the needs of teammates and colleagues? The first thought that I had in response to this is having sufficient self-awareness and clarity of vision.
Thanks Kristina. Yes, the term servant has lots of baggage. It takes humility to embrace it and the conviction that it’s the path to success to live it.
The use of the term vision is helpful. Vision about ourselves, the organization, and the people around us find full expression and clarity in the term servant-leader.
Dan, very thought provoking as usual. In terms of the quote in the beginning: “You lose power when you use it and gain it when you give it”: When we use power effectively, we don’t lose it. We magnify it. Of course, when we abuse power, we lose it–at least with most people, but even then, not with everyone. Those who are attracted to the abuse of power will give the abuser even more power.
Thanks Alan. I appreciate your clarification. Power isn’t bad. The abuse of power is bad.
Tendency of leaders to take all credit may prevents leaders from meeting the needs of teammates and colleagues. They want to show their ability and underestimate others. Such tendency occurs when leaders love their position more than anything else. They start justifying their each and every action. In case they are wrong, they would not accept it, rather they shift blame to others.
When they start giving away such tendency,they start leading. When they start realizing the meaning of leadership, they start meeting needs of teammates. I appreciate your concept ” you lose power when you use power”. It is really powerful statement. I think beauty of leadership lies in creating feeling of affection, trust and concern. And it is sidelined the moment, power comes into play.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. I appreciate your insights. They resound with me. Your connection of taking the credit and love for position is powerful. Much appreciated.
So timely for me .. thanks for shifting my perspective this morning … As external consultants asked to assume leadership roles (C-Suite positions) our lives are filled with leadership responsibilities accompanied by absolutely no formal authority … the concept of ‘servant’ leadership is what I can see as a way forward with ‘peace’ for many of our engagements – a paradigm shift – a new way of thinking (for me anyways) … thanks coach 🙂
Thanks Colin. I respect your transparency. It’s a pleasure to be on the journey with you.
Book recommendation: The Secret by Ken Blanchard – great servant leader story!
Thanks Steph. Love that book!
Excellent article. I am sharing it with the leaders I serve with. Also loved how Serena put it. We will have to read a full article from her sometime too.
Many of my leadership mistakes were made from living in my fears. A great set of coaches and mentors – and some fantastic insights from the book Immunity to Change helped turn that around. I had always wanted to be a great coach and leader and couldn’t figure out why I was getting in my own way at times. I then had an epiphany – I had been promoted many times and well rewarded for getting things done. A number of C-suite executives had said that very thing – “we trust Alf because he gets things done”.
As a leader I had to mobilize others to get things done – and that’s when the problems began. I was supposed to be the person getting things done (or so my internal thoughts went) and I was unconsciously protecting myself even though it meant being a lousy leader. Yeah, It can make your head spin at times.
Once I let go of who others thought I was and my own perception of how I drove value, I was free to become the leader and coach I was meant to be. I’m still a work in progress but I’m getting there – no longer living in my fears.
Mentors (teaching) that is what is missing in leaders. nobody really teaches.
Dan, This is being in school for me, I am learning every day.
I’ve never really thought about the serving side of Leadership, it makes so much sense! If you’ve ever found yourself thinking “Why aren’t they listening to me” I think it is because you haven’t ‘served’ them enough. You’re demanding power you haven’t earned or you have depleted your power. Did you know what you have written applies so, so much to Parenting. 🙂
I think a good leader has to be a servant first to learn humility, submission to those over you, to learn the job the servant/worker/employee is reponsible for so you can stand in his/her shoes as a leader with empathy, understanding, knowledge and wisdom. A good responsible servant often rises as a leader naturally. Regarding the issues of serving and power, giving the power away, speaks to me of delegating power, authority and responsibilities to those you have studied and have learned to trust. You see their potential and want to encourage it. Fear and jealousy do the opposite of delegating. They don’t trust, they don’t want to give up control, and they don’t want others to gain power or recognition. They are afraid of losing out to someone who is better than they are in that leadership position. Fear and jealousy always operate with a controlling spirit. So the healthy pathway to leadership as I see it is servant to leader to delegator, giving others power and authority to perform their jobs and reach their potential. In time, they will delegate as well. And so it goes. What do you think?
Excellent! Just like the perfect omelet, no need to add or take away. Very good post.