In the past few weeks, unless you've been living in a cave, you've been witness to the single largest turnover of power the modern world has ever seen. Not since the defeat of Hitler have we witnessed dictators humbled in such dramatic ways. Just ask Zine El Abidine, former President of Tunisia, or Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ali Abdullah Saieh of Yemen or Muammar Gaddafi of Libya about power. I suspect their answers today might be a far cry from how they would have characterized their power even a few months ago.
Power is an interesting thing. In politics, the workplace and even at home, leaders can hold one of two different kinds of power with their subjects, direct reports or anyone in a lesser position to them. Those in authority can try to exert power over others or they can share power with people. Most of the dictators in North Africa and the Middle East are great examples of men who have maintained power over their people. They rule by fear and their ability to stay in an authoritive position hinges on their military might. Remove their iron grip and the population scatters, looking for another leader.
Companies and teams want powerful leaders, especially during times of intense change. People want a leader with vision, and a demonstrated commitment to that vision, a leader who holds his power because of the respect his people have for not only the position, but also the man. They want a leader with personal power; control over herself and her actions. Most people are looking for a man or women that they can look up to as a role model, someone they can watch demonstrate the values of the organization and not just talk about them.
Most North Americans would chafe against a Middle Eastern style dictator as their country's leader, but there are hundreds of mini-dictators in companies, communities and families all across North America; men and women who behave like tyrants on the job every day. Some of the characteristics of these would-be dictators are:
•A man or women in senior leadership who doesn't know the difference between power and authority. Power is the ability to cause or prevent an action, the ability to make things happen, the discretion to act or not act. Authority is the right to command a situation, commit resources, make decisions, and give directives with an expectation that they be acted upon. It is always accompanied by an equal responsibility for one's actions or failure to act.
•A Manager or Supervisor who doesn't know the difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline is the practice of training first yourself and then others in a particular way of behaving. Punishment is the price or penalty for breaking a rule or agreement made with another party.
•A mother who by-passes her partner when it comes to making important decisions for the children
•A father who lacks insight into his own behaviour and reacts rather than responds to intense situations
What about you? How would your direct reports, or your children, characterize your leadership? Do they see you as a leader who shares power with them, a leader who is adept at discipline and judicious when considering punishment? Do people feel powerful working with you, regardless of your title or position? We are seeing only too clearly what happens to leaders that rule by fear. If you're in a position of authority in your company, church or home...take a moment. Ask yourself, how well am I leading in my role?