Do We Understand Power, Authority and Leadership?

Power, authority, leadership, Greg SatellPower is not simple. Yet, leadership and authority depend on it. Leadership and authority  would seem to go hand in hand. If you have a leadership position, you have authority, right? When you look at the definition of authority, Merriam-Webster describes it as “the power to give orders or make decisions : the power or right to direct or control someone or something.” That seems straightforward. If you look at the definition of leadership, it says, “the power or ability to lead other people.”

Power is in both definitions

Both leadership and authority use power to get things done. It is how power is defined and used that makes these concepts diverge. When we think of authority, we often associate it with a top-down use of power. As in, the formally identified leaders tell everyone what will change. Naturally, there are a variety of responses to this use of power, mainly variations of compliance and resistance.

 Less top-down, more leadership

In a post from the HBR Blog Network, Greg Satell writes about how the change process is encouraged or hampered by the use of authority or leadership. Satell uses the examples of Dr. Semelweiss and John Antioco to show how authority does not bring about a desired change in an organization and there are probably examples from our own experiences which are similar. In fact, there have been a quite few conversations with my own clients about not getting too far ahead of their teams and/or staff. It is important to note that not every leader in an organization is necessarily the CEO or part of the executive team. People in leadership roles may have the capacity to see future trends and patterns emerging before everyone else and this is when the exercise of authority can backfire. A leader can be right and wrong at the same time as was the case for both Dr. Semelweiss and John Antioco.

Change is the illuminator of power

Turnover, customer issues, organizational missteps, new products, discovering new markets or capitalizing on trends are commonly the beginning points for leaders. In Satell’s post, he describes an authoritarian approach to be counter-productive. A top-down, “do it my way” approach, regardless of how it is packaged, does not guarantee comformity or compliance. However, Satell might be using too narrow a definition of authority. There is a marked individualistic perspective underlying his premise. In his definition of authority, a leader (typically with a c-level title or equivalent) assumes a level of influence due to title and position and issues a new policy or procedure. Here is where one’s use of power in an organization is illuminated. The new policy or procedure may be followed or ignored and the leader is left feeling his/her power is diminished and wondering if more authority or more influence would have been effective.

Today’s leadership styles exercise power in less individualistic manner

Humans are used to hierarchies of one sort or another. Even in flat organizations, there are designated people who take on leadership roles and members of these organizations respond to their direction. An authoritative approach (one that encompasses talents, resources, personnel, time and readiness) may be used for specific initiatives or projects or the overall foundation. There is more of a give-and-take in an authoritative approach. Satell writes that, “Ideas take hold in small majorities; many stop there and never go any further, but some saturate those local clusters and move on to more reluctant groups through weak ties. Eventually, a cascading effect ensues.” Underlying his point of how the buy-in of the change process is accepted is how a leader used his/her authority to exercise power and have the message sent to the eventual small majorities.

Not clear you can divorce authority and leadership (or “Why should I listen to you?”)

Satell’s point that an authoritarian approach tends to backfire is well taken. On the other hand, it is reasonable to question if his definition of “authority” is oversimplified. Currently, it is considered that the most effective leaders are collaborative, humble, fair, open-minded, ethical, encouraging and emotionally intelligent. By setting this example, they establish themselves as authorities (having expertise and power) while not having to be the only one who takes or forces action. Employees want to know what direction to go in. This is how a leader can use authority. And…the leader then fosters the spread and adoption of the change process. The most crucial underpinning here is the leader’s understanding and willingness to exert and exercise power.

Are authority and leadership too dissimilar to co-exist as put forth by Greg Satell? Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, April 25, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to add your insights and expertise to our conversation.

How is power expressed by a leader?

What changes do you observe in how we understand power, authority and leadership?

How could power be exercised without leadership or authority?

Can you divorce authority from leadership as suggested by Greg Satell? Why/Why not?

Since command-and-control is now considered an ineffective leadership style, do current leadership styles use more influence or some other type of power?




What Does Our Body Language Say To Us About Our Power

We have all heard how nonverbal communication gives as much or more information about what a person is saying verbally. Nonverbal communication provides context and nuances. And…we have heard about how many people limit or stifle their performance due to self-talk and negative beliefs about themselves. The obvious jump is to look at what we might be sending out as a message but what if we took a look at how we send ourselves a message?

Sheryl Sandberg’s message to “lean in” is more than how we present ourselves to others

Think of people with whom you work, network and serve. What postures have you seen them exhibit and how do you respond? By making yourself bigger or smaller, you also send a message to yourself about the level of power you possess.

Granted, Sheryl Sandberg’s message is predominantly for women and it seems her message to “lean in” contains two thoughts. The first thought is that leaning in implies that you are using your bodily strength to push something forward. The second thought is that leaning in moves you closer to the person you are communicating with and building rapport. By putting yourself into action, you send a message to yourself about your efficacy and sense of personal power.

Biological component

Beyond the psychological component of what messages we send ourselves, we can also alter our biochemistry. Amy Cuddy, professor and researcher at Harvard Business School,  in her TED talk, talks about how our body language shapes our identity. Men and women who adopt power poses raised their testosterone levels and reduced their cortisol levels.  Basically, raised testosterone levels are expressed with increased levels of confidence (We touched on this in another KaizenBiz discussion). Lowered cortisol levels are expressed with lowered stress levels. Another thing to keep in mind is that both testosterone and cortisol are sensitive to social cues and triggers. That is why you can feel deflated, literally, when someone harshly criticizes you.

Do our bodies change our minds?

Amy Cuddy talks about a research study she conducted with Dana Carney, assistant professor at University of California – Berkley Haas School of Business in which they had a group use power poses and another group not use power poses before going into an interview. The interview evaluators did not know which group used the power poses but favorably rated them higher than the group who did not use the power poses. In the mind-body connection world, yogis recommend certain positions because they change how one feels and perceives the world and themselves.

Move like a rockstar or a mouse

So, it seems that we could go in a mind→body→mind process (also known as “fake it ’til you make it”) as we communicate with ourselves about how powerful we feel in any given situation. Whether you are watching Mick Jagger, Bono, Paul Meany or the latest up-and-comer on Eurovision, you notice when they are connected with the audience and expressing their personal power. While rockstar-level hubris might not work so well in the workplace, their sense of confidence and capability comes from an open stance. We may even understand that we could be overpowering and put ourselves into a closed stance.

Body language as storyteller

There are stories we tell ourselves in our heads that show up in our body language and reinforce our self-belief, positively or negatively. Sandberg’s concept of “lean in” invites us to examine our body language. Leaning in may be another power pose to cultivate. The way you sit, stand and move tells you about your power.

What does our body language say to us about our own power?

How do you interpret “lean in” and how it affects our own body language and sense of power?

What value does re-programming some of our hardwired responses bring to our perception of dominance?

Are there different power poses for women than men? If so, what are they?

When does “fake it ’til you make it” become belief and reality?

When would you use the poses to power up or power down?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.