Last time, we concluded with the core finding from the Haas Business School study: power can be beneficial for individual performances but can sabotage team performances. That’s quite a paradox for leaders, who want their teams to be as effective as possible as collective entities but not at the expense of undermining the individual creativity of powerful team members.

In fact, leaders have power: they have to use it make their teams effective. Power, as Michel Foucault once put it, “comes from everywhere,” and that includes organisations, where it’s ubiquitous. Creating a simple binary opposite – high-power = bad/low-power = bad – just won’t work. Leaders at the top of organisations must have the interests of the entire organisation at heart. Those in lower tiers can focus more on less universal issues, like what’s under their direct responsibility and use collaboration to align with their peers.

Power doesn’t have to be conceived of in sadomasochistic terms. An egotistical bully may feel good when throwing his weight around, but more enlightened power-wielders derive satisfaction from being respected. Effective leaders are focused on a specific question. US Airforce Captain Brad DeWaas ably puts it: “How can we remind ourselves of what is more important than the desire for power?” In other words, how do we think of something bigger than ourselves?”

The most effective leaders focus their actions on one general solution: cultivating a compelling purpose which motivates and draws the investment of everyone in the organisation, from the least individually powerful to the most. DeWees again:

“An effective commander reminds his troops of their purpose, whether that’s service to the nation, service to each other, or the defence of the innocent. Effective leaders in other areas of life do the same thing: They build compelling visions of what their organization strives to accomplish.”

When they do this, the desire for status amongst all recedes into the background, allowing the desire to make a difference come to the fore. Thinking of something bigger than ourselves and aiming for collaboration, when collective, helps everyone to grow.

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