A week before the launch of my book, “Principled: 10 leadership practices for building trust”, I had a coffee with ABC radio personality Steve Austin. He was to be the MC for the launch.
Over that cup of coffee, Steve shared with me a few of the questions he was thinking of asking me on the night. The most thought-provoking question he posed was this: “Is there a difference between leadership and power?”
This is a particularly pertinent question this week, as the 2021 student leaders for St Paul’s School are announced at our end-of-term Assembly.
I didn’t answer the question at the time, but I impulsively want to say, “yes, of course there is, a huge difference.” Perhaps I jumped to this conclusion because we are repulsed by the idea of power and the negative connotations that comes with it.
However, I have pondered on that question for many months now and my answer is quite the opposite. There is no difference between leadership and power.
There are over 30,000 definitions of leadership (and I am willing to bet than none, or very few use the word power). My favourite definition is by Ken Blanchard: “Whenever we seek to influence another person we are in a position of leadership.”
I like that definition as it implies that we do not have to hold a position to act as a leader. But, to influence another person, their thinking, decision-making and actions, is to exert power over them.
The truth is, with leadership comes power. The more important the leadership position you hold, the more powerful you become.
Power is a formidable motivator.
Perhaps the better question to ask is, “what do you use your position of power for?”
Cameron Reilly has published a frightening book titled, “The Psychopath Epidemic”. Psychiatrists estimate that one per cent of the adult population are psychopaths. That equates to about 50-60 million psychopaths worldwide. Reilly proposes that a good many of those psychopaths are in positions of leadership; in the corporate world, not-for-profits, education and even the church. Perhaps a name immediately springs to mind.
“Et tu, Brute?”
In his play, “Julius Caesar”, Shakespeare dives deep into the intoxicating effects of power. It has been argued that the phrase “Et tu, Brute” can be interpreted as a curse or warning. The complete phrase is said to have been, “You too, my son, will have a taste of power,” of which Caesar only needed to invoke the opening words to foreshadow Brutus’ own violent death.
The allure of the cup of power is extremely enticing. Even Jesus was tempted by what a sip could bring when Satan, showing Him all the kingdoms of the world, said, “All this I will give you if you bow down and worship me.”
Drink from the cup of power and its effects quickly become potent. It can so easily corrupt.
When Steve Austin first posed the question of leadership and power, I went away and reflected. I came across the story of Martin Bauman.
Bauman was a CEO of a prominent Executive Recruitment firm in New York. In the 1990s, after three decades, Bauman’s company experienced a downturn.
According to the Times, Bauman called his employees into a meeting and asked them to accept a 10 per cent reduction in salary so that he would not have to fire anyone. They all agreed. Then he quietly decided to give up his own salary in entirety, for that year. The only reason the staff found out was because the company bookkeeper told them.
Bauman obviously felt that true leadership – the kind that lives depend on – may require powerful people to put themselves last.
The temptation that power brings can easily be overwhelming. You only need a taste to become addicted. So, perhaps the most important question to ask is, “Would I be prepared to give power up?”
You can purchase a copy of “Principled: 10 leadership practices for building trust” from any good bookstore or online. Profits from the book go to a scholarship fund for the children of victims of child sexual abuse.