Saturday, 5 January 2013

With great power comes great responsibility....

Many of you might recognise the title as a dialogue from the movie Spiderman (2002) but this is a derivative of an older quote "...  the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility."

Power in the context of leadership is an intriguing subject but I refer to it as the power given to a manager by virtue of the formal role he or she holds in the organisational hierarchy i.e. they gain legitimacy to wield power by virtue of the role they do.

I remember starting my career with the misplaced belief that one’s manager could do no wrong but as time progressed (and as I got “corporate wise”) I realised that those who commanded power by virtue of their role were on occasion not getting the best out of their employees because employees would not challenge or question the edicts that came out of those “hallowed” lips.

So something bothered me. If I am listening to managers by virtue of their hierarchical position then surely they should understand that the power that they wield over me in making me listen, obey and execute their strategy means that they have to take cognisance that they have a responsibility in how they use this power.

The problem is that power as a “fear factor” is the norm particularly in organisations and cultures that still enforce structure over performance. Some argue that meritocracy based industries such as Information Technology (IT) that mushroomed in the last few decades do not rely on hierarchy. I wish it were that simple. The degree of power may change but nonetheless I have seen sufficient evidence of misuse of power to realise that a true leader should focus on the responsibility he carries due the hierarchical power that he or she yields. To me being caring and exuding passion are as important as wielding power.

The challenge then is how leaders with power will come to understand the implication of having power and how it can be used to create equity, alignment, commitment and organisational justice in the work-place. There must be some truth in the saying that 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely' (John Dalberg-Acton)

One way for a manager to understand their responsibility is to understand the outcome of how they use their power. Is it to be used to enforce discipline (some call it intimidation) for rote execution/compliance or to create consensus & understanding? Being responsible means being able to put one’s ego aside and seek input (from those below you) on how your use of power is perceived.

Are you as a manager mature enough to undertake course correction either subtly or by making genuine public acknowledgment or even an apology where power has delivered the incorrect outcome? Being able to do this is the ultimate test of how a manager accepts responsibility for their action(s).

In fact, I have started reviewing how I achieved power in my role in the corporate world and I realised that the more responsibility I took (i.e. not given to me by someone else) I gained power in the organisation (the inverse if you read carefully...responsibility led to power!). In fact, power for me was more about gaining control of my team based on respect & mutual understanding and not on the basis of the hierarchical power bestowed upon me by the organisation I work for. Having a sense of responsibility when using power is important as this allows a leader to understand that it is not about delivering a result but also about how you deliver the result.  

Any input/comments for me?


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