Here’s a telltale sign of your ability to influence, and one of my favorite questions to ask my coaching clients.
Ask yourself this question: Which of your people would follow you if you had no authority?
My wake-up call
I can remember vividly learning the hard way the effects of asserting position power in one of my first leadership roles as a 20-year-old. I was over a team of ten other people about my age and got in a disagreement with my assistant district leader. Our disagreement became heated, to say the least. There was yelling and stubbornness on both sides, and each of us held our ground. Finally, he exclaimed, “Okay, we’ll do it your way, only because you’re the District Leader!” To which I replied, “And don’t you forget it!”
Well, I got my way but I had lost the trust, respect, and support of the most important person on my team. As you can imagine, things didn’t go well after that. Our relationship was strained and our productivity fell. If I had been savvier back then, I might have understood that maintaining a good working relationship was more important than asserting my authority or proving I’m right.
Personal power versus position power
A question I like to ask leaders is, “which of your people would follow you if you had no authority?” Some people follow us because of our position of authority, and some follow us because of our personal character and competencies. For the follower, it’s either because they must comply with the requirements of the boss, or because they are committed to the leader’s vision. Which mindset would you rather have people follow you? Which do you think would produce a better outcome? The answer, of course, is obvious.
The Challenge to Act
If you’re truly looking to improve your leadership skills, take action. This week, look at the leaders around you. Which category do they fall into and why? How can you more fully engage and share your vision with your team and those under your stewardship?
-Theodore M. Hesburgh
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