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February 27, 2012

Position and Personal Power: The 1st of 8 Keys to Balancing Leadership Authority & Collaboration

by Dr Rob Pennington

By Stephen Haslam and Robert Pennington, Ph.D., Resource International

This is the first in an eight part series on Balancing Leadership Authority and Collaboration

The 1st Key: Position Power & Personal Power

“It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and find no one there.”  –  Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Every leader is challenged to balance the responsibility for making decisions and the need to collaborate with others to produce desired results. Unfortunately most leaders have unconscious habits that trigger resistance, turning collaboration into competition and sabotage. Before long, employees are competing more with each other than they are working together to beat their company’s competition.

A supervisor was instructed to begin conducting regular team meetings in which employees could collaborate on work projects. The supervisor said, “Why should I collaborate with my employees; they know nothing of value.  I tell them what they need to do and it’s their job to do it.” That supervisor no longer works at that company because he could not adopt the company’s collaborative approach based on valuing the input of each employee.  He felt his authority to make decisions would be threatened by having to listen to opinions different than his own.  This is evidence of leadership immaturity.

Clearly, this supervisor thought his ‘position power’ gave him the authority he needed to manage his team. He was partly correct in that a manager or supervisor is given authority to give instructions, to hire and to fire by people with greater authority. But that does not necessarily mean employees will choose to follow his or her lead or implement what he believes is best. According to Kouzes & Posner (Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, 1993), “Leadership is a reciprocal relationship between those who choose to lead and those who decide to follow.”

Leaders who are truly influential are so because people choose to follow them.

Leadership influence is based on voluntary “followership.” An individual earns his or her leadership through contributions deemed beneficial by others. Followers find that the leader’s contributions enhance their well-being. Such influence is not bestowed upon a manager with the position title; it is earned by collaborating with employees and co-workers.

But this does not mean that in order to win people’s trust and respect a leader must buy it with favors or ask their permission.  One CEO tried to create a supportive work environment by providing benefits such as free lunches and gym memberships. An employee complained that the company should build a gym right in the building because it was inconvenient for him to travel the 1.5 miles during lunch to the local gym. The CEO’s attempt to please contributed to a sense of entitlement that eventually made it difficult for managers to hold people accountable for doing their jobs if they felt unsupported.

One of the greatest challenges of anyone in a position of authority is to balance the “position power” of authority with the “personal power” of collaboration.  Fortunately there are ways to successfully address this challenge.

This series of eight short articles uses excerpts from a more expanded four-part series of articles entitled, Reducing Resistance to Change and Conflict: A Key to Successful Leadership. The series describes why balancing authority and collaboration is a key element in implementing strategic plans, managing projects, and producing expected business results. The next seven excerpts present additional keys for leaders to effectively address the inevitable resistance any leader will encounter to balance leadership authority and collaboration.

The ultimate objective of using these techniques is to establish a work environment in which everyone feels safe to disagree so that communication is more open and work is more productive.

The 8 Keys To Balance Leadership Authority & Collaboration

  1. Position Power & Personal Power
  2. Expect resistance to authority (go to next key)
  3. Address levels of concern
  4. Don’t ask permission
  5. Communicate “The 4 P’s of Transition”
  6. Engage leaders at all levels
  7. Demonstrate respect to build trust and commitment
  8. Get tools in your tool belt

* Resources

Leadership Development: How to Get the Results You Need by Haslam and Pennington.

Reducing Resistance to Change and Conflict: A Key to Successful Leadership by Haslam and Pennington.

Kotter, John P. (2003).  The Power of Feelings, An Interview with John P. Kotter, Leader to Leader, No. 27, Winter 2003.

Bridges, W., & Mitchell, S. (2000).  Leading Transition: A New Model for Change.  Leader to Leader, No. 16, Spring 2000.

Hall, G. E., Wallace, R. C., & Dossett, W. A. (1973).  A developmental conceptualization of the adoption process within educational institutions (Rep. No. 3006). Austin, Texas: The University of Texas at Austin, The Research and Development Center for Teacher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 095 126).

Rob Pennington and Stephen Haslam work with leaders and managers.  Find out more at Resource International,

Read more from Rob's Blog Posts

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