There’s a Fine Line Between Influence and Power

by | Feb 17, 2017 | Behavior, Blog Series, Character, Influence, Leadership, Self-awareness, Team | 0 comments

This is the final entry in the Fine Line Series, highlighting the often razor-thin margin between essential and detrimental leadership behaviors. Exhibit a particular behavior and you’re a champion; overdo it just a little bit and you’re a chump. How do you know where the line between them is, and how can you avoid crossing over it? I hope you’ve found it helpful.


I finish this series with one of the most common of leadership fine lines: the one between influence and power. Influence, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to describe effective leadership. But, unfortunately, most people in leadership positions do not pursue this approach.

Some use the phrase “power” to describe a healthy leadership “presence.” But that’s not what I’m referring to. By power, I mean dictating the actions of others just because you can. It feels like influence, but it’s not.

You might think of power-based leadership as “The Boss” who uses positional authority or “The Dominator” who leverages personal traits like personality, intelligence or experience in his/her leadership. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using positional authority or personal traits to get things done, being The Boss or The Dominator can easily metastasize into unhealthy expressions:

  • Managers who create what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, don’t-screw-up-or-I’ll-fire-you work environments
  • Parents who predominantly display you’ll-never-be-good-enough, why-do-you-always attitudes
  • Peers who use intelligence or wit to shame or dominate
  • Students who intimidate to maintain social status
  • Political tyrants who control constituents’ lives to establish their own legacy

Obviously, not every expression of power-based leadership is tyranny; in fact, many are harmless. But if the operative principle in power-based leadership is the same as political tyranny, do you really want to go there? Do you really want that as your primary leadership approach?

If the operative principle in power-based leadership is the same as political tyranny, do you really want to go there?

“And Your Point Is…?”

Exercising power in leadership is strong-arming people to compel them to conform to your wishes. In other contexts, they call that bullying.

So What?

Using power is the cheap way to lead. It’s the easiest to learn, and once you’ve had success with it there’s little motivation to change or develop deeper leadership skills.

Influence-based leadership is all about building personal competency so that people trust you and want to follow you—because they know that ultimately you have their best interests in mind, not your own.

Using power is the cheap way to lead.

The Big Picture

Once on a power trip, it’s difficult to find an off ramp. It’s both intoxicating and addictive. It will eventually limit your impact and your legacy—no matter how impressive your short-term results might be.

Influencing others will utilize all the tools in your leadership toolkit, expand your capabilities and ultimately strengthen your organization because it is a better environment for developing future leaders.

Once on a power trip, it’s difficult to find an off ramp. It’s both intoxicating and addictive.

Your Next Step

How can you know if (and to what degree) you utilize a power-based leadership approach?

 

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