Avoiding the Power Trip

Power is valuable, but it can do damage if abused. Here are seven principles you can apply to keep your power as a leader in perspective

Leaders are found in almost every stratum of life: in companies, in governments, and in social organizations such as families and groups of friends. Leaders are powerful people because they can sway the attitudes, opinions, and actions of others. Leaders inspire, influence and achieve results.

Everyone has the capacity to lead, because everyone has the ability to influence others. Developing the right leadership strategy for the people you lead is crucial to getting the results you desire. Therefore, it is important to strengthen your skills to better influence, motivate, communicate and coach your people.

Contrary to what many might think, few people are born as leaders. Leadership is a skill developed over time, through practice and hard work. Too often, being a leader and owning power can trip you up. Power in such cases can be misused or abused.

Refining skills

Being on a “power trip” is usually viewed negatively, and it can cause others to lose respect and appreciation for you as their leader. Therefore, it is wise to recognize, develop, and refine the personal characteristics that mark truly effective leaders. Here are Seven Cs for gaining and maintaining power and for keeping power in its proper place:

Character. As a leader, you will be confronted with competing demands from time to time. The ability to manage those demands with integrity, honesty and selflessness is crucial. Being willing to sacrifice your success and your fortune takes guts. Being unwilling to sacrifice your integrity takes character.

Courage. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Courageous people take calculated risks. They hope for the best possible outcome but are prepared for a loss.

Commitment. Every day of your life you may face challenges. But commitment is the will and strength to keep forging ahead no matter how many times you are knocked to your knees. It’s the ability to accept setbacks as temporary inconveniences that get in the way and try to steer you off course. In the long run, unwavering perseverance gets you through.

Cautious attentiveness. A good leader needs to be accurately informed. Be sure you have all the available facts before deciding anything. Carefully consider all options and their possible results before acting. Thinking through the potential consequences of your decisions often prevents problems down the road. Having enough information is only part of the equation. When you have all the information available, use your intuition to fill in what is missing.

Connectability. The ability to develop meaningful relationships with others is the most important quality a leader can possess. You gain power through relationships. Understanding and connecting with others is a key component of positive relationships. Developing relationships with key people will expand your sphere of influence, your access to resources, and your capacity to make things happen.

Contribution to the welfare of others. One of the greatest attributes of a good leader is willingness to serve. Many times, people enjoy being in positions of power because of what they gain personally. Genuine service comes from the heart. The willingness to put other people’s needs and desires before your own is reflected in the attitude and actions of a good leader.

Creative perception. Often referred to as vision, creative perception is essential to leadership. Leaders have a passion for change. They are preoccupied with future possibilities. As a leader, you must be able to articulate your vision if you want to inspire and motivate others. Employees who are excited about the leader’s vision and the direction of the organization become much more productive and willing to participate.

Forms of power

Popular literature on leadership is rife with contrasts between leadership and power. But to be an effective leader you have to exercise power to realize the results you are striving to achieve.

Because everyone has the capacity to lead, each person is powerful in his or her own way. Simply defined, leadership is the ability to influence others to act and to motivate them to get things done. Inherent in leadership is the ability to bring others along, through the power of persuasion, erudition or position.

Persuasive power is your ability to make an emotional connection with others, and through this connection persuade their actions. Persuasive power reflects your charisma — the ability to draw people to you.

Erudite power is gained through extensive knowledge of a subject or area of expertise. It is usually based on acknowledgement of your intellect or accomplishments.

Positional power is based on your ability to control and have authority over others by virtue of hierarchical order. It is most often observed in employment situations where there are levels of employees from line staff through senior management, and in politics where a person ascends to a position of authority by election or appointment.

In most cases, you may ascend to leadership through a combination of these factors. No matter how you reach a leadership role, it will involve influencing others.

Knowing who you are is the most critical element in becoming an effective leader. It requires looking through the lens of critical analysis. You must be in control of yourself before you can expect others to follow your lead.

Leadership is about having self-confidence and being passionate about your values and beliefs. A good value system can help you to stay on course when the ship gets tossed in the storm.

Danita Johnson Hughes, Ph.D. is a health care industry executive, public speaker, and author of the book, Turnaround. She inspires people to dream big and understand the role of personal responsibility in personal and professional success. In her first book, Power from Within, she shared the principles that helped her overcome meager beginnings and achieve success. Visit www.danitajohnsonhughes.com.


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