Trust is the power of leadership.

Leadership Thought 12We made with Heifetz the distinction between ‘authority’ and ‘leadership’. This distinction comes close to ‘transactional’ and ‘transformational’ leadership as explained by Bass & Riggio [i]. Authority or transactional leadership is based on a negotiation and an agreement between the ‘leader’ and ‘follower’. The employee is appointed by his boss. The mayor is elected by his constituents. The teacher has the assignment to teach. Authority and transactional leadership are bounded by this agreement. Leadership is unbounded by social agreements. Leadership is voluntaristic: it’a personal choice to makes things happen.

Leadership & auhority are not an easy marriage. Leadership challenges authority, the order. But both need ‘power’. Both need influence and use different sources to influence. Which are these sources of power? Nye [ii] inspires with his theory of smart power Obama & Clinton foreign politics. He makes distinction between hard and soft power. Soft power attracts and coopts. Hard power threatens and induces. Soft power works through charisma, persuasion and giving the example. Hard power works through sticks and carrots.

Both are needed. Leadership is not only soft power. Nye quotes Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE: “There are 7 to 12 times a year when you have to say, ‘you’re doing it my way.’ If you do it 18 times, the good people will leave. If you do it 3 times, the company falls apart.’[iii] Leadership is more than using the hard power tools that ‘come with the job’. People obey to hard power, but not with their hearts and minds. As difficult times need the hearts and minds of all, soft power is more at hand.

Any comment?


[i] BASS, B. & RIGGIO, R. (2006). Transformational Leadership. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 282 p.

[ii] NYE, J. (2010). Power and Leadership. In NOHRIA, N., & KHURANA, R. (eds.), Handbook of leadership theory and practice. A Harvard Business School centennial colloquium. Harvard Business Press, p. 305-332.

[iii] NYE, J. (2010), p. 317.

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About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 12. Trust, power & authority, 19 leadership thoughts, Academic insights & evidence, English and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Trust is the power of leadership.

  1. Pingback: Patrick Henry › Theories of Leadership

  2. Dear Koen,

    Thank you (again!) for your food for thought. As a returning theme, I’m puzzling with exactly this leadership topic. Positions where ‘smarter’ balancing of ‘hard’ power and ‘soft’ power is a major leadership issue.

    As an example there are a few positions in mental healthcare and in hospitals. Good example is the position of Clinical Chemist (this is higher management in charge of one, in a few cases two laboratory). Specialists functions in which (the more extended), management skills training and leadership coaching (and in a few cases MBA) are added to the specialist’s education program, late in their carrier. In a few of these positions it is very easy to lean towards a more authoritative style of managing from the start. For a part a sort of ‘modes’, socially learned from each other in equal positions. Probable cause contributing, could be that that there are just enough specialists educated for these functions each year, as there are positions. So there isn’t a large pool of candidates to choose from in case of a vacancy.

    A few unmistakeably cases of leaning toward (in some cases even excessive) authoritative managing styles, in these kinds of ‘assigned’ positions of ‘being in charge’, over the years have made me wonder:

    -How do you move from being (very) authoritative to being a genuine leader and leadership? And, what if the person is more authoritative ‘by nature’ (high scores on dominance, etc.) than displaying leadership skills ‘by nature’ (emotion Intelligence, etc.) Can ability of leadership be ‘learned’? Or is this ability linked to deeper in the personality traits? Is the ability of adequately balancing in ‘smart’ power more ‘nature’ or more ‘nurture’?

    -What are the chances of growing towards more GENUIN leadership, if this is externally requested by the organization? (Think of the current major hospital shifts and transformations.)The motive for requesting change is in these cases not internally or voluntary. There is hardly a necessity (what is the personal motive? There is hardly one) or sanction (when not doing), because there is no competition in the form of other candidates.

    -Can the shift from more ‘hard’ power to more ‘soft’ power be coached or trained? And, maybe even more importantly be made intrinsic by a person? So this new behavior becomes REAL, genuine, authentic behavior, not a play-let or theatre-play (I have seen this already happen). Are these necessary personality traits for soft power coach-able?

    -By selection what personality traits tend to/are disposed more to the ability of ‘soft’ power, and maybe even more important the ability to adequately BALANCE between hard power and soft power for ‘smart’ power?

    I think it’s a nice puzzle to solve.

    Thank you again, Koen and Jesse Segers your companion, for all you shares also on Twitter. The two of you make people grow on this medium!

    All my best, Yvonne Telting

  3. Dear Yvonne, thank you for your thoughtful comments & questions. I also like your case. I’m convinced that expert driven organizations as e.g. schools & hospitals will need to shift from expert driven (authoritarion) management to shared leadership (collaboration, empowerment). About your questions: we are convinced and evidence is out there that people can grow. I just read a study that proves that improving self-leadership skills of people creates more productivity gains than e.g. implementing lean management. How to do this? Systematically provide feedback, organize experiences, stimulate reflection and introspection. This only can work if enough room, time, support is provided in orde to have enough psychological safety.

  4. Dear Koen,

    Thank you very much for your answer. I especially like: “.. we are convinced and evidence is out there that people can grow.” It is a positive basis to work from, which i very much like.

    Naturally, i’m most curious to learn only more about the study you’re referring to on self-leadership, productivity gains and lean management.

    And, i think you are pointing out significant directions on: providing feedback, experience, reflection, introspection. With the accompanying conditions, like (making!) room, time, support. And, most important: emotional security. More leadership coaching ‘on the job’ .. this may need to be increased (?) At the moment, in the organizations i’m familiar with, this is more on voluntary basis (“If you have the time ..” “maybe you could .. if you have time ..”etc), initiative has to come from the specialist. Unless performance is seriously lacking.

    There is, however, a major returning hurdle that also is an essential point in all personal change.
    What is the person’s personal MOTIVE to change? And, how to get this personal motive to the surface area to instigate REAL change? In the cases i have seen over the years, the EXTERNAL structure is not contributing to the person’s change (see my reply above): It is very tricky this part because there are in some cases no sanctions what so ever, if the person is not changing at all. And, this also socially learned, and by peers amplified, behaviour that is now (for the changing organizational environment) undesirable behaviour (the mentality), starts, if tracing back, very early on in their carriers, even in their previous educations/ environments.
    It’s therefore in some cases a real challenge to point out the positives (also my personal style of coaching) that may occur and may provide some personal gain (like fewer social conflicts on the work-floor, more cooperation, even higher productivity, friendlier work-environment, engagement, etc ) Because nothing is guaranteed in advance and the ‘bad’ behaviour is an immediate personal ‘gain’ …

    So, it’s sometimes a real puzzle to find the right angle to genuine touch them in heart and mind, so the person really wánts to genuinely change. I’ve seen department(-s in different gradations) with severe authority and communicating problems (for years), only when seriously derailed, the board of directors, took action, and the problems with ‘management’ style were addressed. Some people were replaced. By then the damage on the work-floor, trust .. and in the organization was already done …

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