“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”
I recently had lunch with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in many years. My friend, Keith, was the pastor of my church during my young adult years and he was a profound influence on me, not only as a person of faith, but as a role model of a transformational and servant leader. As we reminisced old times and discussed lessons we’ve learned on our leadership journeys, Keith made a statement that I’ve been ruminating on for weeks. He said “Randy, I’ve learned that if you need to be in power, you probably shouldn’t be.”
Do I need to be in power? If so, why? Is it because of ego, status, or enjoyment of the privileges it affords? Is it a bad thing to want to be in power? Would I be unhappy or unfulfilled if I wasn’t in power? One question begets the next.
As I’ve pondered this question, the following ideas have become clearer to me:
- The best use of power is in service to others. Being a servant leader, rather than a self-serving leader, means giving away my power to help other people achieve their personal goals, the objectives of the organization, and to allow them to reach their full expression and potential as individuals. I love the servant leadership example of Jesus when he chastised two of his disciples for seeking positions of power and reminded them that “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” (Mt. 20:26-27) One of the paradoxes of leadership is that by placing others before ourselves and using our power to serve them actually brings us more power, respect, commitment and loyalty.
- Followership is just as important, if not more so, than leadership. Learning to be a good follower is an essential component of being a good leader who knows how to use power wisely. A person that learns to submit to the authority of others, collaborate with teammates, and sees first-hand the good and bad effects of the use of power, will have a greater appreciation for how power should be used in relationships. We can all probably think of examples of people who were bestowed leadership positions without ever being a follower and then went on a “power trip” which showed how ill-prepared they were to handle the power that was given to them. Followership is the training ground for leadership.
- The ego craves power. My leadership experiences have taught me that I need to be on guard to keep my ego in check. The ego views power as the nectar of the gods, and if leaders aren’t careful, their ego will intoxicate itself with power. In Ken Blanchard’s Servant Leadership Immersion program, he does an “Egos Anonymous” exercise that helps leaders come to grips with the power of the ego to make them self-serving leaders rather than servant leaders. Effective leadership starts on the inside and that means putting the ego in its proper place.
- Power is given, not earned. The power that I have as a leader is something that was given to me, first by my boss who put me in this position, and secondly by my followers who have consented to follow my lead, and it could be taken away at anytime should something drastic change in either of those relationships. We’re all familiar with “consent of the governed,” the phrase that describes the political theory that a government’s legitimate and moral right to use state power over citizens can only be granted by the consent of the citizens themselves. The same concept applies to organizational leadership, and the minute our people no longer support our leadership we have a serious problem.
So, do I need to be in power? I don’t think I need it to be fulfilled in my work, but it’s a question I haven’t yet fully answered. Do I like having power? Yes, I do. It allows me to help others in significant and positive ways. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that I struggle with the shadow side of power and the temptation to use it to feed my ego.
Let me ask you the question: Do you need to be in power? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.