Leadership and the abuse of power

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I found an article on the Psychology Today blog explaining why and how power corrupts leaders .

It explains that a leader can use his or her power to help others, but, of course the leader can also gain personally.  The obvious problem is that when self-interest rules, the leader gains but often at the followers’ expense.

The dangerous thing is that leaders can begin to delude themselves.  They start to believe that the rules that govern what is right and what is wrong do not apply to them because they have the best interests of their followers at heart.

Leaders can become “intoxicated” by power – doing something unethical or taking an unreasonable risk – just because they can!  They can become addicted to the adrenaline rush and followers can begin to collude – it is OK “He’s the boss!”

I’ve seen this kind of thing happen several times in large organizations and not always at top-level.

Sometimes it is someone in an unchallengeable leadership position in a particular division.  They are getting results so those further up the line choose not to ask questions.  Sometimes, it is someone with particular intellectual capital (the subject matter expert) or a scarce talent.  Again it can be easier for “management” to look the other way.

It does not happen just in large organizations.  Abuse of power can happen anywhere! Eventually, the organization suffers eventually either in terms of legal challenge or financial loss from poor decision-making.  The reputational loss can be considerable!

It happens less in organizations with resilient governance arrangements and in those bodies whose top leaders set an example of ethical and compassionate leadership.

But I fear that the present economic circumstances, a climate may be created in which the abuse of power is more not less likely to take place.

On the positive side, of course, power makes leaders more assertive and confident.  They feel more certain of their decisions. This enables them to move forward towards their vision.

At the end of the day leaders and manager must be given the power to “get the job done.” But I’d welcome your views on how best to keep this to a healthy balance!

Wendy Smith is a personal coach and writer at Wisewolf Coaching. She is a qualified coach and a member of the Association for Coaching as well as being a member of the Institute of Consulting and a graduate of the Common Purpose leadership programme.  Wendy is author of “The WiseWolf Job Search Pocket Book: How to Win Jobs and Influence Recruiters” as well as two novels and a number of articles on management and well-being. Her latest publication is a little eBook; “How to Get on With the Boss.”  You can contact Wendy at wendy@wisewolfcoaching.com

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Becoming a Leader Today – Can you have friends in the team?

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It is remarkable that most of our metaphors for leadership seem to come from the battlefield.  Well I suppose, when you think about it, it isn’t that surprising.  After all, that is where it all started with leading the tribe and then leading the army!

Doesn’t it sound confrontational?

So what about modern leadership with its concept of servant leadership and leadership as a dialogue?  Thinking about that led me into thinking about leadership and friendship more generally (no pun intended).

Many moons ago when I started to manage people – in those days you heard little of leadership in the workplace – you were warned not to try to be friends with the people you managed.  Even at quite junior levels in the Civil Service, you were expected to forego the friendships you had already, if they were with members of the team you were to manage, on promotion.

Certainly, personal friendship can make both managing and leading more difficult.

As for closer personal relationships well that can be a minefield.  But, remember, in many small businesses, husband and wife teams work together successfully alongside other family members.

I have found myself managing and being managed by friends.  Also, I have been in teams led by friends and have had friends in teams that I have led. Honestly, I can’t remember it causing much of a problem for me and for my friends; apart from the loss of the odd lunch where we would have shared confidences.  But, in truth, I can see the potential for others to feel threatened by the relationship we had.

I looked up various dictionary definitions of friendship – one had a statement about “mutual trust and support”. Now, therein, may be a potential problem.

I wonder if relationships can be truly mutually supportive, when one party is in a position of power over the other.  Surely, even when the leader is fully committed to servant leadership, there is something of an in balance of power between the leader and the led – the degree depending on the circumstances.

In my own experience, the friendship survived the leadership experience but sometimes it did take maturity and judgment.

I suspect friendship works much better when goodwill exists between the leader and all members of the team.  In those circumstances, trust and support are part of the culture and all feel its benefits.

But, if you do find yourself with personal friends in teams you lead, I would recommend an early discussion with the friends about the ground rules.  I believe you need to be completely honest about how you intend to play it.

I believe, as well, that it is better to let other people in the team know from you that you are friends.  If you don’t tell them, you can guarantee they will find out at some point later and feel betrayed.

In any case you will need to reassure all that there will be no favouritism and, my word, you will need to make sure you don’t show it.

I hope you are blessed understanding friends and an even more understanding team!

Have you ‘led’ friends or been ‘led’ by them?  Please send me your comments on your experience.
I am Wendy Mason and I work as a personal and business coach, consultant and blogger.  I have worked with many different kinds of people going through personal  and career change. If you would like my help, please email me at wendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)2084610114 or ++44(0)7867681439.  I will be very pleased to hear from you. I offer half an hour’s free telephone coaching to readers of this blog who quote WW1 – email me to arrange.

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