Issue 3.8 | June 2012
In this Article: how you use power will determine your leadership legacy.
by Jonathan Wilson
It is one of the great mistakes of a leader to believe that he will be measured by what he has personally achieved. You may have met the vice president in charge of a certain greenfield project, the one so obsessed with how she is seen by those who appointed her that she controls every detail of activity, holds her cards close to her chest, uses her staff as tools and, when she presents to her superiors, embeds her direct reports’ successes anonymously into her own. But this leader was not appointed to make things or do things, although as well as leading she may have another role to play on her team, given her industry-specific expertise. No, she was appointed to enable a team to achieve its purpose. If a leader designs, or creates, or innovates, it is all well and good, but it is not leadership.
Where does such leadership lead us? It leads us into the narrowest of solutions and the most minimal of gains. For the solutions and gains alike are rooted in the imagination of one, the skills of one, and the capacity of one. Very often, however, such leadership is responsible not only for low-grade achievement, but for loss, harm and hurt. It should be no surprise to anyone that this executive is suffering high turnover, missed milestones, and poor financial results. Within her team there are public, angry arguments, cold-shouldering, sudden departures from meetings, and all such behaviours that make a working day miserable.
Having bought into a flawed assumption about legacy, such a leader only knows one means by which to achieve a great end, and that is to wield power over others. Coercive, forceful power yields the meanest of dividends. Exploitative power is worse yet, for it only gouges and uses and reduces.
As I’ve written elsewhere, a leader’s responsibilities lie in two directions: the first is external, to the cause she represents, and the second is internal, to the team dedicated to achieve that cause. Any power given to a leader is for the fulfillment of these two responsibilities. In turn, these two domains of responsibility break down into four integrated fundamentals of leadership, and they are all to do with power: with tapping it, focusing it, releasing it and managing it.
Firstly, a leader is responsible to foster a collective and precise understanding of her organization’s unique identity – it’s soul. For it is from its unique set of skills, insights, cultural traits and resources that the organization has anything of distinctive value to offer. The source of your organization’s power is its corporate soul.
Any considerations about a company’s identity only take on meaning or significance when it creates value for a customer. As a result, the second responsibility of a leader is to ensure the organization develops a clear purpose. Purpose is, at root, the optimal way an organization can use its core identity to create value for others. Purpose focuses power.
Thirdly, a leader is responsible to encourage the relational conditions that naturally release power: an environment of trust. Creative power is unleashed in a climate of mutually perceived safety, freedom and transparency, in which people willingly communicate, willingly share information, and willingly collaborate.
Fourthly, a leader is responsible to create and maintain a culture of discipline: discipline harnesses and manages power. Discipline is committed to rigour and enabled by accountability: with regards not just to performance but to maintaining an unshakable focus, an uncompromised method, to a unified community, and to a refusal to deny hard truths combined with a corresponding dedication to learn.
Together, the four dimensions of leadership work in concert to ensure the successful movement of leaders and their teams from conviction (about what matters most and what they have to offer to what matters most) to action to achievement.
The Servant Who Became King
The measure of a leader is not what she achieves, but who her people become and, in turn, what they are therefore able to achieve. By the age of thirty-six, the fresh-faced Jason Storsley, originally a farm-boy from British Columbia, was made President of Royal Bank of Canada, Direct Investing.
Jason did not gain this role by wielding power, but by enabling it. Although driven by a love for trading and a fierce passion for excellent performance, he did not take the false leap of logic that great performance requires a leader to personally deliver a great show. Instead, he “helped out everywhere”, starting on the trading floor. He made it his job to always find out what his peers and, especially, his superiors, needed from him if they were to succeed. The result: Jason was “pushed into management.” As he rose through the ranks, he realized in each new role that he didn’t need to adopt new, power-wielding behaviours in order to succeed: by enabling others to succeed he had already been exercising leadership.
On May 8, 1945, Winston Churchill appeared before rapturous crowds in London to announce the end of World War II. In his brief speech, he said, “God bless you all. This is your victory!” In response the crowd roared back, “No, it is yours!” He persisted:
“In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation. God bless you all.”
Britain’s victory in WWII was not won by Winston Churchill, but by the British people. Yet there is no doubt he led them to that victory. As you consider your own legacy, remember this: in the end, it is the servant who becomes the king, for the servant is the enabler and those who are enabled, together, build kingdoms.
Another soul insight from www.soulsystems.ca.
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