Saturday, May 10, 2014

Leadership and Power

This morning I blogged about Thailand and made a mention about leadership and power. 

The concepts of leadership and power have been and will continue to be interconnected. An individual cannot be a leader without having power although an individual may exert power without being a leader. 

And power is simply “the potential to influence others”. This definition helps demystify power and puts into perspective the importance of using power in order to be an effective leader. 

Therefore, leadership is about power and power is influence. And leaders use their power to get things done. 

A simple distinction can be made between two forms of power. Socialized power is power used to benefit others. We hope that our elected officials have this sort of power in mind and are primarily concerned with the best interests of their constituents. The other form of power is called personalized power, and it is using power for personal gain. 

Importantly, these two forms of power are not mutually exclusive. A leader can use his or her power to benefit others, but can also gain personally. Do you know of poor former US Presidents? 

The obvious problem is when personalized power dominates and the leader gains, often at the followers' expense. Yet, leaders can delude themselves that they are working for the greater good (using socialized power), but engage in behavior that is morally wrong. 

A sense of power can cause a leader to engage in what leadership ethicist, Terry Price (“Understanding Ethical Failures in Leadership”, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2006) calls "exception making” – believing that the rules that govern what is right and what is wrong does not apply to the powerful leader – “for other people, this would be wrong, but because I have the best interests of my followers at heart, it's okay for me to..." 

During Watergate, the argument was made that US President Richard Nixon could not have acted illegally because "the President is above the law." 

Leaders can also become "intoxicated" by power – engaging in wrong behavior simply because they can and they can get away with it (and followers are willing to collude and make such exceptions "It's okay because he/she is the leader"). 

Thaksin Shinawatra, Mahathir Mohamad – these are good examples. I would go so far as to label them as “misleaders”. 

I like the definition that Warren G Bennis gave: “Leadership is the wise use of power”. 

Another by-election is on the cards. The Teluk Intan parliamentary by-election will be held on May 31 with nominations on May 19, the Election Commission chairperson Abdul Aziz Yusoff announced on Thursday. 

[Teluk Intan is a Chinese majority seat (42 percent), followed by 38 percent Malays and 19 percent Indians]. The by-election, the sixth to take place since GE13, was called following the death of DAP’s Teluk Intan MP Seah Long Peng, 48, on May 01 due to bladder cancer. 

The by-election with a 12-day campaigning period will take place just six days after the Bukit Gelugor by-election in Penang.

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