As I start my fourth year as CEO, I have been struck by the impact of power. Specifically, how my power is perceived by those around me. While I have always understood at an intellectual level that power has an impact, it is difficult to truly grasp the full extent when you’re the one with power. The experience of a person who feels powerless in a situation or relationship is entirely different. The role of CEO carries a level of power that is at times difficult to reconcile.
Wise use of power relates to owning one’s power and using it in alignment with vision and values to make critical decisions, move an organization forward, and achieve results.
In our Elemental LeadershipTM program, we talk about the wise use of power as a critical leadership skill. According to organizational consultant and author Warren Bennis, power is the ability to initiate and sustain action in service of a particular goal (Bennis, 1985, p. 15). Skillful leaders are able to use power in a way that energizes the individuals we lead, builds commitment, develops the potential of followers, and ultimately achieves outcomes. At Service Alternatives, we define effective power as leaders being grounded in our core values and moving toward our vision of advancing the potential of our communities, customers, and ourselves through exceptional service.
There are many ways we can use our power, and the first step to using it wisely is becoming aware of our tendencies. One person may become aware of using their power in a forceful way, i.e. “I am the manager and therefore you must…” Another may need to develop their assertiveness so their voice can be heard. For myself, I need to ask even more questions of those around me. While I cannot control others’ response to their perception of my power, I can set a stronger tone of inquiry. Inquiry is a method for me to balance out the inherent power in a CEO role. There are many, many examples of how one might need to develop skills in the ‘wise use of power.’
I encourage all individuals, regardless of role in any relationship or situation, to claim this same concept of power ownership. If we all worked on owning our ‘wise use of power’ there is no limit to what we can accomplish together.