Leadership and Power - Being the Boss Doesnt Guarantee Either of Them

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Some people mistakenly associate supervisory positions, or seats of power, with leadership. They presume that these two things are synonymous. While this may be the case sometimes, leadership and power are wholly separate. In reality, the boss may not have all of the power, and in fact, may not be capable of handling it, even if he did possess all of it. What do I mean? What is leadership, and what is power? How do they inter-relate? How are power and leadership obtained? Let's take a look.

Leadership is the ability to influence others to take action when they might not otherwise be compelled to do so of their own volition. Influence is the key element of leadership. As personal influence grows, so does the capability to lead. Demonstrate your desire through action; hands-on is hot, finger pointing is not; provide direction, reason and motivation.

Power is a more complicated matter. There are five types of power that can be found within the organizational hierarchy, and all of them can be used to accomplish tasks, and perhaps influence others. However, the leader probably will not possess all of these powers?and that's an important concept to understand. It's just as important to realize that having personal possession of all five powers is not essential to being a successful leader. Knowing how to apply these powers is.

So, what are the five powers, and how are they used?

Legitimate Power. This is the one power the boss always has, based upon his position in the organization. A first level supervisor, mid-level manager, department head ? all have specific power bestowed to them once they accept the supervisory duty position. The boss signs timesheets, approves vacations, assigns work, etc.

Reward Power. This is the capacity to control and manipulate valued resources. For example, the boss may have just received a difficult task to be accomplished in a very short deadline. The boss tells his staff that if they complete the work to standard, and on time, they will have a pass day, or a luncheon for the hard work. This sounds great to the staff, and they get the difficult job done in time. The boss has just used his reward power to influence his workers.

Care must be taken that the boss does not overuse this power, or a backlash effect is possible. Reward appropriately, based on the situation, conditions, and careful consideration. Do not reward for everything. Doing so will diminish this powers effectiveness, and create workers' expectations that they should be rewarded every time they accomplish tasks ? difficult or otherwise.

Coercive Power. This is the capacity to control various punishments. Again, this power is usually in the hands of the boss, but could reside with other people in the organization as well. The supervisor could use this power, for example, to give a bad review, disallow time off, or hold back a promotion, if a worker is not doing as instructed, expected or otherwise resistant to directions. On the other hand, a worker could also exert coercive power over a supervisor if he was aware of something that could impact the supervisor in a negative way.

Expert Power. This is the strength derived from special skills, expertise, and knowledge. You know this person as the Subject Matter Expert (SME); the Guru; the go-to guy. These experts are found up and down the corporate ladder. Be assured that this power is not influenced by pay grade or position. The smart leader seeks out these experts wherever they may be. Knowledge is power.

Charismatic Power. This influential authority is derived from personal attraction, admiration, or identification with the person. Again, charismatic power may be held by a member of the rank and file; not the boss. You know this person as well. He is someone that others gravitate toward because of his 'aura' or personality. This person may not even have to say much to establish his presence. He could be the good listener with an understanding ear. He may be the silent leader among peers because of his charismatic influence.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what leadership and power are, you also have a good idea of what they are not. It should also now be clear that supervisors do not automatically possess leadership simply because they are granted some power. The supervisory position only gives the individual some authority to accomplish certain tasks and objectives in the organization. This authority, or power, however, does not convey leadership to the individual. It simply puts that person in charge.

A poor supervisor is one who attempts to accomplish work mainly by bossing others around, threatening, strong-arming, or otherwise punishing others into compliance. He does not seek help, believes he is never wrong, makes no mistakes, and is otherwise inconsistent in word and deed. He has little respect from co-workers.

A good supervisor is one who accomplishes work by influencing others to willingly accomplish tasks, achieve goals, and maintain standards. He leads by example, seeks help when needed, rewards and punishes fairly. He makes mistakes, and acknowledges them. He is respected by co-workers. That's what leadership is about.

There is no quick answer as to how leadership is obtained, but as you already know, some people have great capacity for leadership, while others do not. The seed is planted from your earliest interactions with others; it begins to grow as one matures. In the work force, leadership may blossom with the help of a strong mentor or a seasoned 'veteran' of the organization who takes someone under his wing. Over time, an individuals' leadership quality may improve tremendously, if it was based on strong foundations, but for others, a leadership plateau may be reached, and further motivation to improve may not exist. Leadership can be as varied as each individual.

In the end, it doesn't matter if you are a supervisor or not. Leadership is not dependant upon your title or position. Seek out those you admire for their leadership abilities, and follow their example. Improve your own leadership abilities by holding yourself to high standards of conduct and by challenging yourself often. Follow these guidelines, and you have a recipe for leadership success.

Joseph Yakel is Chief Warrant Officer 3 in the US Army, a freelance writer, and author of three books. His articles have appeared in publications such as Communications Technology, The Pipeline, and Army Reserve Magazine. Joe's works have also been highlighted on USAWOA Online, USAR Online, and other Internet websites.

Free chapter previews of his books are available at:

Joe welcomes visitors to leave comments and book reviews, and is available for author interviews. Contact him at:

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