Leadership is not about who you are but about where you’re going

Self-importance seems to go hand in hand with titles. Ascending to a position of power and importance can readily go to one’s head. One leader revealed that within hours of being appointed to a new job, one where he was in charge, he received two phone calls from colleagues encouraging him to show his power, to let people know there was a new sheriff in town.

Admittedly it is a tempting thought. After all, you’ve worked hard, proven yourself, and paid the price for success. Then getting the place of power and authority, it seems a shame not to use it. However, I’ve found that


If you have been reading The Practical Leader for long you may remember that post I wrote last year about restraint. Power brings with is many possibilities for good and for bad. Using power to demonstrate power is almost always counter-productive.

It is critical to remember that the object of power is not power nor the ability to use power unless it is qualified by purpose.

Just what is the motive behind and the intent ahead of the power we wield?

Methods might have to be changed or recharged to refocus the organization on its mission. The mission and vision of a company, if it has been well-considered before implementation, remains fixed and constant. The means to get there do not. Power, and your new position , is a great chance to refocus on the mission, remind everyone (yourself included) of the progress made, and refine methods you’re taking to get there.

Paradigms change, we have to as well. We start out using one map, a projected lay of the land and assumption about routes to be taken. But as our understanding changes with time and experience, so must our “maps.” Changes must be made, but they need to be logical (according to sound thinking and valid argument) and they must be reasonable (according to rational thought and trustworthy information and data). Anything less and confusion will result raising levels of anxiety in everyone working for you.  If they cannot see the reasons why changes are being made and if they cannot understand how they will fit in those changes, their sense of security will plummet.

Finally, employ the power and privilege of your position to clarify and explain what’s being done and why. People of power have earned the right to be heard. Do not squander that right by remaining silent. With the power and the privilege comes the responsibility to treat others with the respect they deserve as individuals and valued participants in the company’s purpose. Explain, explain, explain. And don’t limit your explanation to one announcement, an email, or a notice put on a bulletin board. Keep explaining until everyone gets it.

Simply throwing your weight around puts the spotlight and focus on you which is precisely on the wrong place.  You, the leader, want to be the calalyst for action and advancement, not the point of reaction and resentment.

The principle of promissory note

broken eggYou see them too if you ever scan the listings. I am talking about the jobs sections of Craigslist. You can make thousands of dollars working for an unnamed company whose application address is a blind one.

This is a common theme of mine.

The setting was a private school. The newly installed headmistress faced a tall pile of unresolved challenges. The school was not a wealthy one but did allow for some reduction in school fees in exchange for volunteer commitments from parents. Therein lay a problem.

The new headmistress was confronted daily with parents who simply did not show up at their scheduled times to shoulder their promised responsibilities. Most didn’t even telephone in to say they weren’t coming. When the headmistress began to hold those parents accountable, one of them said something incredilble.

“We’ve never had anyone who actually expected us to do what we said we would do.”

Keeping promises is critical in every relationship. You cannot build a solid team on unreliable people.

In fact, a national poll released just this week (December 2, 2013) shows that most American do not even trust each other. So bad has it become that we not expect to be misled and let down more than we expect to be told the truth and given promises someone will actually fulfill.

In the first installment of this mini-series, I wrote about the principle of good faith, that law that assures people who work with us that we are worthy of their trust. A relationship, even those on the job, are like banking, loans, and bank accounts. They are built on the unexpressed but nonetheless vital principle of mutual trust.

Whenever I hired people for my businesses I would tell them that I hire people to solve problems not make them. I had no need to pay people to create problems for me because I am more than capable of creating ample quantities on my own. I also warned them that I had a zero tolerance policy for no shows. “If you don’t show up and if you don’t call me, then don’t come back.” If people I hired could not keep that simple requirement then they could not earn wages from me. And I enforced it.

Here’s why.

When you do what you say, others learn that you mean what you say. Never promise what you cannot deliver. Never make rules (like my “don’t show up” rule) and fail to enforce it. If you do, others will learn the very first time that your word in meaningless. Motivation drains away when that happens.

Keeping promises you make and holding others to promises they make synergizes to make a key ingredient that is mandatory for long-term relationships – RESPECT. The esteem and regard held by others towards adds to our line of credit. They grant us greater authority. If there comes a time when you cannot keep your promise, do not simply ignore it. Speak clearly and honestly to those affected and never try to BS your way through. It will only make it worse. When we have respect for those who work for us and with us, we regard them too highly to do anything less than be completely honest.

This principle is called promissory notes because it communicates the image of obligation. Indeed, the fabric of civilization is woven with the threads of personal responsibility and fulfillment of obligations.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. Dwight Eisenhower

4 Lessons from a meddling boss

fasten seat belt signThe hour was late, quite late in fact, somewhere around 8 p.m. The office had technically been closed since 5 but I was still there working with two volunteers. I was tasked with the job of preparing registration packets for the 1300 or so incoming guests at a conference. The sponsoring organization had contracted with me to coordinate the conference which required me to spend some time at the main office.

I had the situation well in hand and my team of volunteers and I were well on our way to getting the packets completed and in the mail except for one persistent and annoying person – the CEO of said organization. All day long he kept leaving his office and invading our work space.

It would have been fine if he merely came in to check on progress or came at our invitation to solve a problem (we weren’t having any). But he felt he needed to make a contribution to the effort so he kept coming in to do things. One particularly annoying interference came when he suddenly decided that the font used to print out confirmation letters should be changed.

Now, this was back in the 1980’s when changing a font for printers was not nearly so simple as it is today. Nowadays all we have to do is highlight the text, select a new font, and press the enter key. Back then it involved inserting code before and after the text to indicate the section of text to be changed and the new font. Inevitably, changing fonts also changed spacing and formatting which required, for our well-intended but misguided assistant at least, monkeying around with the paragraph and line length formats too.

For about an hour work came to a stop while he fiddled with this!! It was a completely unnecessary interruption. We had been using a highly readable font, the one they had used at the previous conference. So, changing the font was not a necessity brought on because the font in use was unreadable.

So why did he do it?

To show us that he could!

It seems incredible but I assure you it is true. This particular person, male in this case but the problem is universal, wanted everyone to know just who the boss was and how technically superior he was to us mere mortals.

What’s more, he found it necessary to demonstrate that he worked harder and longer than anyone else. Because he had invaded our workspace so often, we were behind. We broke for a quick supper then took our places again on the line processing letters, stuffing envelopes, and preparing the packets for registered guests.

But he would not give up. He kept coming in, stopping the flow of work, making unnecessary adjustments, and then retreating to his office. I had expected that by 5 he would go home and leave us in peace. I had keys to our work area, had been tutored on how to set alarms and the lock up procedure. Not him! He remained there and continued his regular incursions.

Finally about 8 or 8:30 it occurred to me that he was not going to leave because his ego was so big he absolutely had to be the last man standing.

So I gathered my team and quietly explained what we were going to do. We gathered our things and headed for the door.

“Good night!” I called out. “We’re going to finish this up later.”

We exited the door and hid, hid mind you, behind hedges near the entrance. In less than 90 seconds our superhero was out the door and in his car. I disarmed the alarm, opened the door, and reentered the office where we finished our work in peace.

Now, I want to assure my readers that the work we were doing matched the standard required by the organization. We were not trying to make short-cuts or compromise the integrity of the process in any way. My biggest challenge in the entire conference coordination contract was fending off constant interference from the CEO. He just would not leave well-enough alone.

I had listened to him extol the virtues of his own work ethic many times before and heard him make less than positive comparisons of himself with those many unfortunate souls he had been gracious and generous enough to employ through the years.

I call guys like Mr. Wonder campfire legends. They sit around board room conference tables and pepper the conversation with thinly veiled PSA’s (my acronym for Praising Self Announcements). Those unfortunate enough to endure them or sycophantic enough to adore them will be regaled with tales of how the hero had to step in at the last minute or those morons would have sent out those letters with the “wrong” font!

Here are 4 Lessons I have pulled from this:

  1. An overly-engaged boss can create self-induced turbulence. The condition is most often seen in pilots whose grip on the controls of their plane is so tight and unforgiving that they prevent the plane from responding smoothly to the natural flow of physical dynamics thus inducing turbulence. In leadership and management, nothing works with 100% efficiency. Nothing! The more effective bosses know this and, while maintaining control in general, allow some latitude in how things are done. This accommodates the natural flow of human dynamics. So lighten up and loosen up whenever and wherever you can.
  2. Meddling is not managing. Some managers, like Mr. Wonder above, do not understand this. To meddle is to interfere officiously and unwantedly. To manage is to direct, govern, or control. Managers and leaders, at least the effective ones, know when to engage…and when not to. I
  3. Intervene only when you must. Sometimes it is called for. Sometimes it is imperative. But save up your interventions for times of crisis and for the teachable moment. Your job is more than getting the work done. It also involves developing capable people. You risk compromising your ability to do that when you interfere too much. Think Felix Unger of the Odd Couple, so obsessive over process he often sabotaged the product.
  4. Meddling corrodes your power connection. Leave a charger connected to a battery too long and you risk fouling the plates inside or recharge the battery too often and you diminish the battery’s capacity to store energy. The end result is LESS POWER not more!

The Mr. Wonder I reference above has a long, long history of failure to attract and retain independent people who would make his work easier and more productive. Instead, his constant need to meddle and incessant desire to be able to assure his board that were it not for him the organization would have collapsed long ago perpetuates an atmosphere of dependency and weakness. Independent thinkers leave in frustration while those needing constant intervention remain. This feeds the frustration and fuels more war stories about how no decent employees are ever available and everyone must be constantly managed and how there’s always constant pressure and…well, you get the idea. Mr. Wonder created the problem and it is in his personal interest to maintain the problem.

How well are you doing? Can you be confident you are intervening only when needed? Are you developing capable people or perpetuating an environment of weakness?

The Power of Example – two reasons why it is imperative that we practice what we preach

good-example-good-advice“He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.” Francis Bacon

You can get to the top of our profession and game by being conniving, ambitious, and ruthless. You really can. And it may be something you can live comfortably with. The name of this website may even suggest that I am willing to take the most direct route to success and accomplishment. After all what is more practical than doing whatever it takes to get whatever you want.

But I have not, and have not ever suggested that the validation of effectiveness is results. There are rules by which effective and principle-centered leaders play.

Most of us have worked for Machiavellian leaders at one time or another, perhaps you are working for one right now? If nothing more, you can learn from the power of a bad example. So I’ll say it again just to be sure I’ve said it clearly, expediency, as defined as the quality of being convenient and practical despite possibly being improper or immoral, is not validated by reaching an objective.

Fundamental to my definition and application of practical leadership is not expediency but a noble, worthy, wholesome, and better future gained by means whereby everyone is benefited and no one must compromise their principles to get there.

The ends do not justify the means…never have…never will.

Therefore, effective leaders do the right things in the right way so that the right outcome is realized in the right time.

Leadership is:

To get people to want what it is that you’ve got because you reflect with your life what it is that you say that you ought to be.


Don’t give it to them but show them how to get it for themselves.

Here it is why we practice what we preach:

To get people to want what it is that you’ve got, people have to be able to see it. Your associates and employees are not blind and they certainly are not stupid (well, most of them aren’t most of the time, anyway). Motivation is like an internal combustion engine. The fuel is applied to the right place at the same time a spark reaches the cylinder to cause the release of energy to make the machine produce. You, the effective good example apply some of the fuel and all of the spark. To internalize this, your associates and employees will gain this from your example because they like what they see, identify with who it is that you are and what it is that you stand for. You, by your example create

  1. Inspiration – a dream comes alive
  2. Motivation – energy is released to move in the direction of the dream
  3. Aspiration – effort is applied when the person determines to reach for and attain the possibilities your example has projected.

To maintain the inspiration, motivation, and aspiration you have to reflect what it is that you say by what it is that you do. Okay, maybe the grammar isn’t the most scholarly, but the principle is. You gotta walk the talk. All the time. The fastest way to kill the engine is to reveal that you are not what you’ve led everyone to believe. How do you avoid that? Not by duplicity! I have never suggested and do not suggest now that we as leaders ever engage in manipulation of the facts or circumstances to mislead. It is commonly done and I think it reveals more than the truth about who someone is, what they’ve said, or what they are doing.

It reveals an ingrained disrespect for the associate and employee.  When a boss tries to mislead or hide the truth s/he has little respect for the intelligence of the one(s) s/he is trying to mislead. When a boss tries to mislead or hide the truth s/he has little respect for the worth of the one(s) s/he is trying to mislead. You see, if we leaders and managers hold those who work for us and with us in high regard, we would never live, work, act, talk in any manner except what the circumstances demand ­­­­­- the best always and ever.

On the obverse, what you do is unmistakable evidence of who you are and what you believe. Anyone can say anything, can espouse the most grand and glorious rhetoric. It is what they do that is the evidence of who they are and what they really believe.

There are bad examples up to wazoo…but there are really good ones too. We tend to remember the bad ones more because they are a like a dark stain on a light garment. When the calling is high, the responsibilities upon the leader are heavy.

Now you may object that your role as a leader or manager is not so grand. Perhaps you do not lead an organization. Perhaps you manage a crew that stamps widgets out of whatzits. Well, history has proven the efficacy and worthiness of products well-made. Regardless of the grandness of the title or the exalted position of the office, it is the attitude and perspective of the person with the mantle of leader or manager.

I’d like to hear about the good ones though and so would your fellow readers. Leave a comment below and I’ll post it for the others. I’ve had to disable automatic posting because of spammers who daily fill my inbox with offers of marriage from Russian women and sure thing investment opportunities. But I do look at them all so I’ll read yours too.

6 Bases of Power – the nine characteristics of a Principle-Centered leader

valuesI raised quite a firestorm a few years ago when I wrote an article called “Cardboard Elvis.” (You can check it out here.)

It discusses the disparity between charismatic leadership and principle-centered leadership. They are not mutually inclusive nor are they mutually exclusive. The article explains that while society in general is attracted to charismatic leaders, it is the principle-centered ones that actually build substantial organizations that last and do the most ethically and morally to serve their communities.

But principle-centered leaders are not always flashy. They are not always the best orators. They don’t always attract much attention. They do, however, tend to attract quality people and, here’s the clincher, they tend to keep those quality people over a long period of time.


Well, let’s look at it from two perspectives. First, from the viewpoint of the associate or employee; Money is not the only reason someone takes a job. There is a large segment of the workforce that looks for companies that embrace the same value system and will work for less as long as the values remain consistent and are proven over time to be core values.

The principle-centered leader attracts them because his/her life reflects what his mouth said we should be. Stated as a principle of motivation it is this:

People want what it is that you’ve got because you reflect with your life what it is that you say with your mouth that you ought to be.

You, the principle-centered leader, are genuine, without wax, solid, certain, true, honest, transparent, upright, fair, just, and balanced. A tall order for sure, but the result is lasting power and influence!

From the perspective of the principle-centered leader, s/he will accept nothing less than a whole person. S/he will tolerate no compromise in principles, will demand that the core values of the organization be maintained even if it costs the organization, and will never excuse any untoward behavior by claiming that the end justifies the means.

I am by no means the first person to ever espouse this. Perhaps the most famous was Steven Covey who contrasted Primary and Secondary greatness. Primary is what I’ve called principle-centered. Secondary is what I call charismatic. (You do understand that I am using the term “charismatic” in its generic sense? I am not referring to that branch of contemporary Evangelical Christianity that is, within the jargon of that genre, called charismatic. However, the principles I am defining here apply graphically there too.)

When I first released Cardboard Elvis most of my consulting and training clients were managers and leaders of several charities with religious affiliations. In the article, I refer to one leader in particular without naming any names. My experience with that particular leader had brought home the sharp contrast between charisma and principle in a way that negatively impacted me and a very large number of others.

Even though that person was unnamed and the organization they affiliated with was not mentioned, I received many, many letters and phone calls telling me that they knew who that person was. Every letter or phone call mentioned someone else, dozens of different leaders that headed up different organizations in different parts of the world.

What does that illustrate? That the condition is widespread and visible.

Principle-centered leaders honor their associates, employees, and followers because they live and work in a manner that never betrays their confidence in him or her. Power is created when the values of the leader overlap and coincide with the values of the associate. It becomes a self-igniting source of energy that will drive the wheels of productivity, creativity, and progress. Control is self-control, internal not external because followers believe deeply in the goals communicated to them. Motivation is intrinsic and the dynamics of work become much simpler to manage.

Covey has his eight characteristics of principle-centered leadership. I have nine. You can read his in one of his books or elsewhere on the net. You can see mine right here:

  1. Consistent – They don’t blow hot and cold, positive and negative, righteous and evil.
  2. Balanced – They live to work and work to live, but that’s not all they do. They have home lives of comfort and security, relationships of affection and respect, and schedules that include work and play.
  3. Honorable – They have motives that speak the best of society and are civilization builders. They plant trees they will never sit under, swear to their own hurt, echo all that is good and decent.
  4. Upright – They never stoop to anything, no dirty tricks, no misleading statements, no questionable tactics.
  5. Fair – They treat everyone the same and live and enforce rules the same.
  6. Just – They have high morals and live by them, they know right from wrong and live on the right side.
  7. Sincere – They are never duplicitous, never misleading, never dishonest.
  8. Truthful – They are determined to tell the truth – that which is correct and accurate, the whole truth – leave nothing out, and nothing but the truth – add nothing to it.
  9. Reliable – They are people of their word, make commitments they will keep, and form a solid basis upon which associates, employees, and followers can build their lives.

Who do you know that you can identify as principle-centered? I hope it is more than only one.

6 Bases of Power – Charismatic

Wizard-of-OzThey stand out, those charismatic leaders.

Larger than life and more enduring than time, their names remain known and their works referred to yet today.  People like Jesus, Caesar Augustus,  and Charlemagne anchor ancient history.  In the more recent past it is Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, Henry Ford, Aimee Semple McPherson, Churchill, Hitler (despicable but charismatic nonetheless), Patton, Walt Disney, and countless more known less well but effective within smaller circles.

Charismatic power has traction because the leader is verbally eloquent and able to articulate a vision of meaning to his/her followers. They are celebrities in their own right even if their field is not entertainment. And in a world where media reigns supreme, charismatic leaders have a lock on power.

Plus it doesn’t even matter if they know what they’re talking about.

The influence of a celebrity is why product endorsements are so lucrative. The product endorsement business is gigantic, many millions of dollars every year. Despite a few failed associations, celebrity endorsements work.

We grant authority to charismatic figures (we cede to them power) because of their supposed status. Indeed, some charismatic leaders are persons of exceptional heroism, character, and ability. Sadly, most are not. They only appear to be. It has more to do with the relationship between the leader and their followers than it does with the leaders exceptional abilities. The charismatic leader who finds a receptive audience has struck a chord within them and they respond. Too many of those charismatic leaders tend to be two dimensional, possessing bigger than life appearance. Often they either lack depth or they simply are not what one supposes and ascribe them to be.

Often manifest in religious groups and politics, both of which require a suspension of credible belief to function. They call on ideals, evoke images of a brighter, better tomorrow, and persuade followers to participate in their pursuit of that tomorrow.

C.S. Lewis defined a celebrity as one who is well known for being well-known. They play on their image behind which there may or may not be any substance. I am not implying deception although I will acknowledge that it does sometimes occur. Like the wizard of Oz, they do not want you to see behind the curtain. Television, radio, the internet facilitate this quite well because of its ability to broadcast an edited performance allowing the leader to control what the followers see and hear.

The farther away and higher up the ladder, the more power we tend to give them.  I call this the prophet from another country syndrome, taken from the words of Jesus in the New Testament when he said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country. It implies that if you really knew who the person was and understood what they were really like, they would not have nearly the same power.

Charismatic leadership works because it taps into a dynamic of motivation all effective leaders understand. When followers admire what you have to say and how eloquently you can say it, they will follow enthusiastically. Conversely, as I will address in the very next post, there are men and women of exceptional character who lack eloquence and flash. Their possess intelligence, vision, and character, but are handicapped because of a lack of charisma.

Charisma is not a bad thing. It is merely a dynamic. Used by unscrupulous people it is disastrous. Employed by persons of character and honor, magnificent things happen.

Here’s the video:


6 Bases of Power – Knowledge

knowledge3When the definition of power includes the “ability to exert influence” there is probably no basis greater than the subject of today’s post. People love advice form perceived authorizes. Take, for example, Ann Landers.

Ann Landers is a pen name invented by Chicago Times columnist Ruth Crowley in 1943 and taken over by Eppie Lederer in 1955. For 56 years, the Ask Ann Landers syndicated advice column was a regular feature in many newspapers across North America.  A few months after Lederer took over the column, her twin sister, Pauline Phillips, started her own column calling it Dear Abby. Through the years millions of readers have read thousands of columns.

The add the many other advice givers in print and broadcast media, throw in celebrities endorsements of products and political candidates, and add it to an educational system that credentials experts and the sum is a civilization intent on yielding authority to knowledge givers.

Indeed, being in the know adds depth, credibility, and authority to your place of power. Nothing builds confidence like being in the know, like being proven to be correct.

In a moment of shameless self-promotion, let me refer to my book the “3 Essential Skills of Effective Leaders” wherein this point is skill number one. An effective leader understands what’s going on by virtue of his/her experience, training, insight, and knowledge. They then know what to do next, know why it is important to take that action next, and knows how to make it happen.

Knowledge has such power, exerts such influence because followers seek out these four things:

Solutions to problems. People look to us to resolve issues. The fastest way to move away from leadership is to manifest ignorance. A few days ago we watched the taut thriller U-571. Without giving away the plot, there is one scene where the exec was faced with a tough choice and confessed publicly that he did not know what to do. Later, in private, the chief took him to task for that, saying that the leader must never admit he does not know what to do. Once your people believe that you do not know, your ability to influence them and consequently your power, greatly diminishes. HINT: Even if you don’t know, find out, figure out, work it out. Never, I mean never even hint that you are in the dark.

Answers to questions. This is why Ann  Landers, Dear Abby, Miss Manners, and Dr. Phil do so well. Life gets complicated. We face dilemmas. We have questions. We look to, and ascribe authority to, people who have answers. Answer men and women explain why, what, and how…and consequently we lend them great authority. A month or so ago I noticed that my left eye was not focusing properly and that when I looked at a straight line there was a small dip in the line about a third of the way from the left. This happened with any and all straight lines. I figured my eyeglass prescription was out of date and I needed new glasses, this was accelerated when I stepped on them and broke them.

So I made an appointment and went for an eye exam. When he finished the doctor told me I needed to see a retina specialist because there appeared to be a blister on the retina of my left eye. I left there and made an appointment. Before the appointment I googled my condition and found a medical site that told me that a blister like bubble will sometimes form on the retina, that they do not know why, and there is no cure, that it usually goes away in 4 to 6 months.

When I returned from the retina specialist I relayed to my wife what the doctor said, that a blister like bubble will sometimes form on the retina, that they do not know why, and there is no cure, that it usually goes away in 4 to 6 months. It was precisely what I had learned for free on the internet but that doctor’s charge of $100+ now brought assurance that the answer was the answer. See there, having the answer contains value, in this case $100 worth.

Information to fill a void. Consultants make their living because of this. We know what piece or pieces are missing and what to do about it. You might have heard the story of the consultant hired to find out why a particular manufacturing process was not working. He looked around the plant, walked over to a particular pipe, pointed to a certain spot, and smacked it right there with a heavy hammer.”

They did so and it started working. When he sent his bill for $10,000 the company objected to the charge saying that was a lot of money to hit a pipe with a hammer. He resubmitted an itemized bill that read:

Hitting a pipe with a hammer = $1.00

Knowing just where to hit it = $9,999.00

Directions when they can’t find the way. When I think of leadership, this is the image that first comes to my mind. Leadership paints an image to me of movement toward a destination. Not talking about it, not planning for it, but moving towards it. This is also why I discount the idea that one can lead from behind. One can manipulate from behind but one cannot lead.

Life coaches do so well at this these days because the advice and assurance offered by someone whose opinion we respect holds tremendous value. I was counseling a young couple who had started a business. Their business was about two years old and they wanted to know if things were going as well as it should. After reviewing their accounts and plan it became very obvious that they were indeed on the right track. They remarked that they just needed someone of experience to tell them things were ok.

But I counsel many others who are not doing so well. They are just starting out and cannot see the way. Leaders have tremendous opportunity here to show people the way.

Of the bases of power I have reviewed so far – official, transactional, and coercive, knowledge is by far the most prevalent and most effective. Education and experience packaged together yield powerful leadership.

Check out the video:

6 Bases of Power – Coercive

fistThere was a time when this type of power was common. It is the first resort of bullies, manipulators, and thugs. It is the last resort of everyone else.

The Business Dictionary defines it as “Authority or power that is dependent on fear, suppression of free will, and/or use of punishment or threat, for its existence.”

This is the 4th in a seven part series on the Bases of Power. The underlying meaning of power in our context – leadership and management – is INFLUENCE. We, as those who shoulder the responsibility of directing departments, groups, institutions, and organizations, must be able to influence others. Our objective is to move forward, achieve goals, reach targets, make an impact, and fulfill vision.

To do that we must enlist the cooperation of others. Coercive forces others to cooperate. It does not enlist their cooperation.

Effective leaders have a multi-faceted approach to leadership. They can call up different approaches, manifest different styles, and use various devices to motivate, manage, and lead.

Coercive force is sometimes, even rarely called for. It presumes an adversarial relationship exists and once coercive force is employed an adversarial relationship will certainly result even if it was not there before.

It might be the oldest form of power in the context of structured relationships. Coercive power is the raw exercise of authority over others. Conquering armies use it as do monarchs.

It can usually be justified in times of crisis and chaos. If all hell is breaking loose, there might not be the time to assemble a focus group and come up with a plan. Coercive power can be mean spirited and abusive. Sometimes, as in crisis, it might be the most efficient and effective means to the end.

But it most often manifests itself in insecure leaders and managers where it easily becomes abusive. Emotionally and psychologically insecure leaders fear losing control and this is where coercive power takes on an insidious approach. You may have worked for or with a master manipulator who will do whatever it takes to get you to do what they want you to do. This is where it gets tricky because coercive power is not always blunt force. It is, especially in this day and age, more often seen as subtle, indirect manipulation.

Those who resort to coercive force do not regard people as people. They regard people as objects, devices to be controlled and maneuvered.

Because followers follow from fear or manipulation, commitment is superficial. The focus is always on the one doing the controlling. But, control is mostly reactive and temporary.

I once worked as a consultant for a master controller and manipulator. His mantra was POTC which he explained meant:





If we define “control” in the “manage and oversee” sense, all is well. If we take it like he did, it meant absolutely squelch any and all sense of individuality and cooperative participation. Control for him really meant coerce. You either did what he said in precisely the manner he said it or you were out. He was physically and emotionally exhausted because the functions of the entire organization depended on him and his need to control everything.

I would like to propose a slight alteration to his mantra. POTC is fine, but let’s define it as





Why “COORDINATE”? Because coercive power should be used very, very sparingly and only as a last resort. Leaders and managers will be far more fruitful and far less stressed when we learn to coordinate the talent that works alongside. Positions of authority are important. The bases of our authority and the devices we employ are critical.


6 Bases of Power – Transactional

The desire for an answer  is on everyone’s mind but seldom expressed early on. Every job applicant wants to know how much. Every employer wants to know how little.

The question? The applicant wants to know how much will I get paid? The employer wants to know how little can s/he pay and still get the position filled.

Transactional power is as old and as enduring as time itself. Social and commercial interaction with people has always revolved around give and take. We as owners, leaders, and/or managers have a supply of incentives to offer in exchange for time, talent, effort, and to a limited degree, enthusiasm.

It has been around so long because it works. I’ve taken jobs for the incentives like everyone else. Every business uses them of necessity. Only interns whose ultimate objective is a paying job will work for free in a commercial setting…and they won’t do it for long. The now famous “Show me the money!” underscores just how powerful this is.

It applies in non-profit settings, too. Volunteers may not work for money but they work for some currency. Effective leaders of non-profit organizations understand there must be a pay-off, the volunteer must receive something in return or they won’t volunteer for long. (There is much, much more I have to say about this since this was my field for many years. Stay tuned for future posts.)

There are limits, however. I can buy a person’s time, talent, and energy. It is much more difficult to buy a person’s heart. The endemic motivation to participate with your company and do so enthusiastically is far more subtle. There is a blend of personal values which must match and remain matched to the values of the company. Effective leaders know who works for them and what fuels the fire. Too many leaders are either clueless or they assume all employees are the same, a grave error.

What am I saying? That money is not the only incentive and most certainly not the only fuel for maintaining motivation. Notice I said “maintaining motivation.” Most people are motivated already, the question is what are they motivated toward?

Effective transactional leaders find out.

Finally, transactional power tends to be more individual than corporate. It tends to play best and reinforce individual participation and achievement, almost always because incentives are individual. Team building incentives can work if they are carefully designed to appeal to a small group. Make the incentive governable within a controlled group. Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers has taken away individual incentive and replaces it with their SSEI – Sales Service Employee Initiative. But the matrix for determining pay-outs is so complicated and the result too dependent upon performance for the entire store that most employees have given up because they cannot control the actions and performance of someone on the far side of the store. Many employees consider it to be a shell game. If the incentivized transaction is to work it must be:

Personal – connect with the individual in ways that mean something to that individual.

Manageable – simple enough that the individual can see where to grab hold of it and learn how to make it work.

Meaningful – match values and ideals within the employee.

How well do your incentives work? What have you tried that succeeded? What have you tried that failed?

Check out the video below.


The 6 Bases of Power – #1 Official Power

principal's officeThis just might be the most visible and common basis for power in our culture. Government is everywhere with its many officials who wield some degree of power over some segment of life. Police, firemen, zoning inspectors, building inspectors, tax collectors, license bureaus, apartment managers, condo boards, homeowner’s associations, the BATF, the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, Homeland Security, and more. From top to bottom and everywhere in between, official power can be seen and felt.

Then there is the job place. We have managers, supervisors, owners, corporate officers, team leaders, and union officials. In one way or another each of us is either under official power or sits in its seat. Usually we do both.

Power, in this case, is granted because we occupy a seat of power. The power that exists does so because there is some legal and/or cultural sanction for it. In a civilized and orderly society, we recognize the need for it and submit ourselves to it. The power we manifest in an official capacity is derived from the position and title.

A supervisor supervises, a manager manages, a leader leads, and a president presides. The extent of supervising, managing, leading, and presiding depends, of course, on the office, more about that later in this post.

Now, in theory at least, official power is directly connected to obligations. Meeting the obligations of office, both explicit and implicit, reinforces the power bestowed on the seated official and validates the person in the office. Failure to meet those obligations erodes power.

As leaders and managers, we should be aware of it and capable of meeting its implicit and explicit obligations. In an ideal world, if a person is incapable of shouldering the demands of the office s/he wouldn’t take it. Offices are not bestowed just to make a person feel better, or at least they should not be. Offices are bestowed because there are responsibilities to be met.

But ours is not an ideal world and subordinates and followers are regularly faced with yielding to official power held and wielded by those who exhibit varying degrees of incompetence.

Legitimacy for the power bestowed and consequently manifested is established by the structure – political, organizational, or commercial. There exists somewhere, a creed of demands for the office. It may be written in the form of a job description or it may be implied. The implications are much more difficult to deal with.

Under official power, an us-them relationship results. Teamwork can result but no even plane exists. There is always a top-down, us-them configuration. I am by no means implying that this is either unwarranted or ineffective. Indeed, it is necessary for the machinery of organization to work, at least in western culture. We are not, Americans at least are not, a people of consensus. We have a peculiar approach to power, perhaps unique in the modern world (the past 200 or 300 years). We set up structures, elect or select officers to occupy places of power, then become easily contrary.

When I lived in the Caribbean (US Virgin Islands) I remember listening to a local emergency management official describe the challenge he faced when he attempted to prepare the general population for an approaching storm. “We do not live,” he explained, “in a culture of compliance like exists in Cuba. We live in a culture of independence.”

If he had that much trouble enforcing regulations when it comes to a life or death threat like a major storm, what challenges must you and I face in something far less dire? Why?

Because authority is awarded upward. Since the feudal barons of England forced King John to accept the Magna Carta, we have been holding officials’ feet to the fire, accepting official authority while at the same time rejecting authoritarianism. All power, in this setting anyway, is delegated, but delegated upward from those who would be subjected to it.

Those feudal lords understood what authoritarian leader do not – that passive mass acceptance of authority should not and must not be construed as popular mass support.

Some, but not all autonomy of the subordinate is ceded the superior. Followers grant the leader/manager the right to exercise authority over them within the limits of the office because no power is absolute despite the efforts of some to make it so.

The one in the office must recognize limits and not overstep. If and when they do, they foster resentment and rebellion. In a work setting, there are limits to what we as leaders can expect and enforce. Henry Ford tried to engage in social engineering when his “Social Department” which offered profit sharing as long as employees complied with his description of accepted behavior. He set up a team of 50 investigators along with support staff to visit the homes of his employees and determine if they were engaging in heavy drinking or gambling.

We as employers must address the problems of imprudent behavior in our associates and employees, but our authority and power ends at the workplace door. We can, and should, insist on safe and responsible behavior on the job. What may occur off the job must be directly and explicitly tied to the job.

A personal relationship does not necessarily exist nor does it need to. The relationship in an official power structure is mechanical not organic. Power as it is manifest in the office imposes itself on those within the jurisdiction of the office. Personal relationships are not unwelcome nor should they be unless personal relationships give rise to suggestions of cronyism, favoritism, or harassment.

The lines of authority are defined by the structure. In our culture we love and gravitate to charts and diagrams that delineate and define how things fit together and how they should work. I am not apologizing. I like them, set them up, study them, and offer advice to organizations when they experience problems with them. Lines and systems of authority promote feelings of security because we can know what to expect and where it will come from.

Power does not entirely depend on the person occupying the office. The office itself is the source of power so unassuming people make take on the mantle of authority because their office and position bestows it upon them.

Therefore, respect is granted because of the office. If the person is not exactly an imposing or commanding figure, their office gives them a place of deserved respect.  I find many new leaders or leaders in a new office can be reluctant to accept and/or exercise the trappings of office. Some even make the mistake of trying to be too much like their followers. There is a distinction between imperialism and aloofness and commonality. Officers have their own uniforms and protocol. Do not apologize for shouldering official power if you came by it legitimately.

Why? Because leaders and managers have every right to expect, and demand, respect for the office they occupy. There’s work to be done and people work best when there is a chain of command, a decision-making figure, and a central figure to make things happen.

At the same time, leaders and manager should conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the office. Novices, psychologically insecure people, and tyrants ignore this. They claim the right of kings to do whatever they want to whomever they want. This will provoke your followers to the barricades and they will erect a guillotine in the town square.

Out of office equals out of power. Once the tenure in the office ends, once you leave the position, so does your authority. This can create two problems. Some are reluctant to give it up because one’s identity as a person can be so imprinted with the office they occupied that they just can’t give it up. Second, once they’ve left their former subordinates will compare the new against the old.

Authority is derived from implied responsibility and how well we fulfill it. The power of the office and its corresponding authority to accomplish it can be eroded when we screw up. If expectations are not met, influence diminishes.

Earlier in this post I spoke of expectations. Usually an implied contract exists, a slate of expected results. Unfortunately, followers often cannot or will not define their expectations and their expectations can be unrealistic.

When they are not met, conversation is necessary to clarify and rectify. It becomes imperative to discuss those expectations with those who are disappointed to determine if they were unrealistic, impatient, or not.

Official power is everywhere.  It is necessary for the functions of government and business. It allows for flow of power and authority from place to place and person to person.

It is possible to wield it without apology or explanation. The Nixonian “I am your President” should not be necessary. If you have to keep reminding followers of your office either they are hung up on titles or you are. Effective leaders and managers shoulder the office with the objectives of their office always in mind. They let their accomplishments establish and validate your credentials.

The next article in this series will address Transactional Power. Please check out the video below and pass this on to a friend or colleague you think might benefit from it.


Find more articles and videos on leadership and management at: www.ThePracticalLeader.com