“People impute all kinds of things to leaders, and sometimes it is thinking of them as disproportionately powerful and imagining them to be much more transcendently significant in what they can accomplish, to have many more tools and weapons than they actually do.”
~Drew Gilpan Faust; President, Harvard University (The New York Times, November 1, 2009)
Ms. Faust’s quote on leaders and perceptions of power ring true to my experience.
Yes, I lead a company of 400 people. Yes, I can hire and fire, buy and sell, move and shake. That is power of a sort. Yet in reality, my actual power lies in my ability to influence and persuade, motivate and cultivate. Yes, I can order a 6-story building painted bright orange and deep blue with vibrant green trim and it will be done. But if the marketplace doesn’t like it, in short order some portion of my power begins to erode. (Yes, I did paint a building orange and blue but it was in Gainesville, Florida, home of the mighty fighting Gators and the students liked it. Now it is virtually a landmark.)
As a leader, I work through others. One pragmatic definition of a leader is someone who has followers. My success as a leader in large measure lies in my ability to reach people, energize them, align company values and personal values, and persuade Team Members to embrace our company mission of service, smiles, and stewardship to our stakeholders.
In a free country, in a free market, in the long run the only power I truly have as a leader is the power that people are willing to entrust to me. As a leader, I am first, last, and always the steward of power, not the owner of it.