Companies struggle with employee engagement, retention, culture, and ultimately consistent customer experience because the majority of positional leaders don’t know how or are unable to use their power well.
A Quick Story of Power Abused (to skip the story go to the next bold heading)
I sat in the interview room of a police department several years ago talking to Bob. Bob had been arrested on the charge of domestic violence.
“So Bob,” I asked. “Why were you arrested?”
“I don’t know,” he replied without even looking up.
“You must have some idea,” I said.
“Cause my crazy ex called the police,” he grumbled.
“Okay, and why did she call the police, Bob,” I asked.
“I don’t know.” He repeated.
I decided to try a little differently.
“Did y’all have an argument?”
“Not really. I mean we had been arguing on Facebook some but she just came to drop off my kids and called the police on me.”
“So let me get the picture,” I said shaking my head and looking down at the police report in my hand. “She pulled up in the driveway with the kids, got out of the car…”
“No,” he cut me off. “She didn’t get out of the car. She just called the police.”
“Just like that?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Were you outside,” I asked. “Maybe walking towards the vehicle?”
“Yeah, I think I jogged toward the driveway when she pulled in.”
“Were you saying anything, maybe yelling angrily?” I asked.
“Um...yeah,” he shrugged. “Probably.”
“Calling her names?”
“Did you get to the vehicle and maybe tap on the window?” I tapped on the table in between us with my pen.
“Did you tap or bang?”
“Well...I mean it cracked a little but it wasn’t that hard.”
“Okay,” I nodded. “Bob I feel like we’re getting somewhere but still feel like we’re missing something.” I looked up and gave him a chance to come clean. He just shrugged. “Did you, by any chance, have something in your hand,” I asked. He thought for a second.
“Matter of fact I did,” he nodded sheepishly. “A knife.”
In fact, the police report stated that he had run toward the vehicle cursing, and screaming waving a three foot medieval sword.
Empower > Overpower
Bob has something in common with an unsettlingly large number of positional leaders. Not only do they try to overpower and control others, when the poop hits the fan they use selective memory and self-deceiving reframing to completely miss the actual problem and shift the blame. After all “it’s so hard to find people willing to work these days.”
An equally large number of positional leaders are trapped in corporate incentive systems that practically force unhealthy power dynamics and manipulative strategies to meet arbitrary metrics. Not to mention, many large companies and corporations have dual identities-a PR identity based on a noble mission statement (and sometimes even genuinely on their origin story and ideals) and a second identity based on the bottom line. Leaders are asked to pay lip service to the mission statement with its empowering, altruistic language while still meeting performance benchmarks that may arguably be unachievable without using less than altruistic methods. This leaves those leaders frustrated and angry and unable to empower their teams.
At the risk of sounding sensational, there really is a dearth of truly powerful leadership. The kind of leadership that results in loyal cohesive teams, real time employee development, and an internal integrity that inspires collaboration. This empowering leadership doesn’t just impact the internal culture. Customers, strategic partners, and stakeholders experience long term benefits in the form of stability, more consistent quality, and the priceless feeling of trust.
Leaders Who Use Power Well
If the majority, or even half, of the leaders in your organization don’t know how to use their positional power to invest in their teams and build positive internal culture what does that cost?
Most companies recognize the cost to some degree and invest in leadership training of some kind. However, few start where truly excellent leadership springs from: the identity of the leader.
It is from the powerful leader’s identity that they form a healthy sustainable mindset, and develop empowering relational patterns.
I’ll tackle that process in a future article. For now let me end by getting some feedback.
I have recently begun compiling some data around how people feel about their experience with their managers.
I’ve collected a considerable number of responses already. Throw your answers in the comments. Or take a stab at what you think the average percentage of managers respondents so far have said were empowering and personally cared.