Your Power as a Leader

Years ago, I had a very difficult boss. One-on-one he wasn’t a bad guy. He was warm and likable. But in a group—particularly in meetings—he become another person. Dr. Jekyll became Mr. Hyde.

Newton’s Cradle with One Ball About to Be Dropped - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/TommL, Image #17094436

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/TommL

He would suddenly become cold and aloof. If I, or someone on my team, reported good news, he either didn’t acknowledge it or quickly dismissed it.

“Okay, we get it. You had a great month. Can we move on?” he would snap.

If we confessed bad news, he would begin his interrogation. He would bludgeon us with questions, one after another. He often asked the same question more than once, wearing us down and sucking the life out of us. We would leave these meetings depleted and discouraged.

I was very much aware of the impact he had on me. I vowed I would never lead this way when I got promoted.

As leaders, we possess more power than we think. But we can only use it for good if we understand it and embrace it. We need to remind ourselves of these four leadership realities:

  1. People are aware of our role. As much as we may want to be “just one of the troops,” our people can’t separate us from our role in the organization. Even if it’s only subconscious, they know we can advance, hold back, or derail their careers. This colors their perception and interactions with us.
  2. People notice our behavior. This is easy to forget. When I was just beginning my career, I noticed how my boss treated his assistant, whether or not he was punctual to meetings, and what he did when he was angry. So did my colleagues. We often spoke of it to one another. We noticed the most trivial details.
  3. People amplify our words and actions. This is the scary part. We may think we are just being firm, but our people see us as angry. “He chewed me out,” she reports to her friends. Or we ask a question, and our people interpret this as a lack of trust. Everything gets dialed up a click or two.
  4. People create stories to explain our behavior. This is just human nature. We inherently try to see the patterns behind the facts and create meaning. Sometimes we get the story right; often we get it wrong. Regardless, we knit together the facts and create narratives to make sense of our world.

As leaders, we don’t need to resist these truths. Instead, we need to be intentional with our words and actions, aware we are constantly modeling what we believe and expect. It’s not unlike parenting. More is caught than taught.

This is a challenge but also a great opportunity.

Questions: What impact do you want to have on others? How do you want them to feel after their interactions with you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://wcwpartners.com/our-blog/ Doug Watsabaugh

    “More is caught than taught” – what an amazing reminder! You would think that as leaders, we’d find it easier to lead by example than force the truths we refuse to adopt ourselves – but great leaders realize that leading great teams evolves after one has done the hard work him/herself. Most of the time, it’s about showing…not telling.

    • Jim Martin

      Doug, you are right about the importance of showing.  For some reason, we often forget this and think we can turn on leadership and then be ourselves when the challenge is over.  People really do see what we are.

  • http://www.healthywealthyfamilies.net/ Hilary Martin, MBA, CFP®

    When I interact with other people, I want to leave inspired and knowing that I see greatness in them. 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      I love your tag line/bio, Hilary! An economist and an optimist. We need more economists like you!

  • Carmen

    I want to have a positive impact on others including my children and spouse. I want to be an example, especially for my children to lean into life.  I wanted to say the tough times and the good times but as time goes on some of those tough times were the times that were the best times I learned the most so they were good times. I want to be an example of embracing life with courage and trust in God. I want them to feel empowered knowing that Gods Got This as they say at my church. He has a plan.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Those are great traits to model for your kids!

  • Medard Akankwasa

    I think then I find it necessary for leaders to ask themselves of how they are viewed.

    On creating stories its purely true and these stories can either be true or wrong, so we as leaders Ithink we should still go back and see which story is true why did it happen. this will help us improve because after a story comes resentment in the hearts of those who you lead because they know and have tried to follow your behaviour.

  • Bruce Cross

    Sadly enough, many of us have traveled the road you describe…we vow to not follow in the same footsteps and much like the son of a father, who, perhaps has followed a negative path (alcoholic, abusive, etc.) we throw down the gauntlet and say “I will never be like him in XYZ!”   The same is true in the work relationships you describe. 

    We need role models or become a role model that according to the Philippians 2 model depicting Christ….although God, did not seek equality with God….and became a man meant to serve. 

    I want those with whom I interact to feel welcomed, valued, and cared for….I have work to do! 

    • Jim Martin

      Bruce, I appreciate the last sentence of your comment.  That sentence caused me to reflect on my own behavior.  Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/Chris__Sanchez Chris Sanchez

    Great stuff!

  • http://www.changevolunteers.org/ Change Volunteer

    100% agree! Two-faced leaders are even more disliked in general. And the followers tend to become two-faced in response.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Great point that followers model the leader’s behavior, even when it’s negative!

  • Pierre Quinn

    Thanks for the post. As a leader of a church I am the members to know that I care about them, want/need to learn from them, and that I purpose to walk with integrity. There are challenges. When you say no to an idea or challenge a point people often take it personal. 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      People taking things personally (in a negative way) is usually either a challenge where they don’t understand the vision (which is an opportunity to cast it) or they disagree with the vision (which is an opportunity to manage them out of the church/organization).

  • http://www.clarityfortheboss.com/ Geoff Reiner

    Hi Michael, 

    Great post and I certainly agree with your leadership realities. Often a disconnect lies between how leaders perceive themselves vs. how they are perceived by their team and this leadership reality is critical to understanding and working through this potential disconnect.

    I interviewed a CEO the other day that shared a great phrase, “Lead as if you have no power.” We spent some time talking about leadership, positional power and vulnerability. I’m wondering what this phrase means to you?

    Thanks again!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Man, I like that quote: “lead as if you have no power.” I often meet young people who say, “I can’t lead because I don’t have the authority.” They are wrong. This is exactly the environment they need if they are going to grow as an authentic leader.

      • http://www.clarityfortheboss.com/ Geoff Reiner

        Yes! So many young people get caught in the leadership = authority mentality, which I think is junk. The best leaders in business are the leaders that surround themselves with great people and ask for help. 

        Anyone can lead. It takes confidence and a willingness to admit you don’t know everything that separates the good leaders from the great leaders. Authority means nothing. 

        Thanks again for your comment Michael. I appreciate the time and effort you take here. 

  • Lynn Hare

    Awesome post.  Humility goes a long way to make up for mistakes we make, too. I’m grateful for co-workers who extend grace and see the heart of leaders, even when things go south.  In addressing individual achievement, I’ve always made it a personal policy to compliment in public, and suggest changes & necessary improvements in private.

    • Jim Martin

      Lynn, what a great point you make.  You are right.  Humility does go a long way toward how we deal with our mistakes and how others see us as well.

  • brad

    Yes, I agree.  It is really true that most of us take it very hard if the boss is “very firm” with us. I remember how it feels to get called into the bosses office and get a “talking to.”I found out the hard way my wife felt just as stressed by me scolding her as I did by my boss scolding me.
    I want people to feel empowered after I talk to them. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than negative for changing people to do better. The Rosenthal study showed that if you think students are doing good, you will treat them like they are doing good and then they will do good. Same with everyone.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Many great truths there, Brad!   Setting positive expectations with positive reinforcement produces positive results!

  • http://johnmarkharris.net/ John Mark Harris

    I think, going along with #4, people are more apt to create a “backstory” in a vacuum. The leader who tries to keep silent on his/her personal life today will be plagued with invention on the part of his/her (soon-to-be former) followers. Don’t go on vacation or even a business trip without telling your people first. Don’t have it as a mystery if you are in or out of the office. The only reason to hide any of this is if you’re not leading, and if people don’t know, they fill-in-the-blanks with the worst. “where’s Susan? What, on vacation again? She’s never in the office! Does the board know?”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree with this. Thanks for you comment.

  • http://twitter.com/DanielHarkavy Daniel Harkavy

    Great post Mike.  So many leaders sabotage their influence by not being mindful of how their energy and attitudes impact those around them.  This is why it is so critical for leaders to have a process in the mornings to make sure their heads and hearts are right.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I couldn’t agree more, Daniel. As leaders, we have an awesome responsibility to those we lead.

  • http://about.me/revchadbrooks chadbrooks

    These are all lessons I learned this year. My most current job change moved me from working among excited peers to leading a group of people that were anxious, gun shy and very protective. At times, I contributed to that. Over the last 6 months I have realized the power of much of these without being able to put a finger on them exactly. Thanks for putting them together in a concise way.

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  • http://twitter.com/SoderquistCentr Soderquist Center

    Love point #4. People relate to stories. It humanizes even the most distant and high up leaders.

  • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

    I want people to feel like they have been heard. I’ve been amazed lately with how much practice and energy this takes. Yesterday, I was depleted because of several nights of not getting enough sleep – my listening capacity was depleted as well. I’m finding that being present, and being a listening person means starting with things like rest and prayer.

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    Great post, Michael.  This is the way to live and lead.

  • Nithin

    In answer to your question, I want people to feel like they have been with Jesus after an interaction with me.  That they would feel listened too, understood, comforted but also challenged to step up the challenge.  

    I sometimes think that we leaders (or maybe just me) have to always have the right answer, right direction, be all knowing and that is an illusion that is too hard to keep up.  Yet, if we don’t keep it up then what will our followers, collegues or co-workers think?  Even though to them the problem is obvious, while we are too busy pretending we have it all together.  

  • Enoch

    Thanks, Michael. How sweet to know also that only as we become different people on the inside can we pervade an integrity to others that goes beneath the surface. 

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  • http://www.stephenmelancon.com/ Stephen Melancon

    Really enjoyed this post. The four leadership realities are a great reminder!

    I want to help others realize their true potential. Too many people are held back by fear, society… or who knows what. I strive to inspire action with others through interactions that enable people to achieve at high levels.

    In the end, I really just want to have a positive impact on people’s lives. As leaders, we are here to serve those who follow us.

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  • http://twitter.com/BudgetMindedOrg BudgetMindedOrganics

    Good words to live by.  I was tested one time at work on the use of my words.  I said something that was meant to be a redirection of actions, yet, my words were interpretted as “scolding”.  Not what I meant to do at all.  Thanks for opening my perspective.  I will take that extra moment to think before opening my mouth.

  • http://twitter.com/RayCullins Ray Cullins

    test

  • ButchHoward

    Michael:
    There is one more factor in play here. Because of their power, leaders often don’t have anyone willing to provide genuine feedback. Fear overrides. Everyone knows but the leader.
    The leader continues in the mire…
    So, be sure to encourage someone to pull you aside and let you know what you need to change, before the fall…

  • dwhitf

    just thanks  88′ Grad

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  • Hannelise Bester

    I want people to think I’m a great person.  That I care about them, not just when I’m dealing with them, but all the time, even when I’m not around.

    I don’t like it when someone tells you that they believe in people getting in what they are worth, and then not living up to their own words.  They might have kept it for themselves.

    I love making people believe they are wanted, needed, loved.  I love encouraging people, helping them, giving them incentives, even if it’s just a pat on the back and telling them they are great.  :)

    I love this post!  I hope it gets to the people whom really needs to read it.  :)

  • Bob Whittemore

    Mastering the art of “transferring positive energy” to others is critical for a Leader.  The greatest power any of us has, is the ability to make another human being feel good about themselves.

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  • http://www.davidsollars.com/ David Sollars

    Michael, I very
    much appreciate your words today. I too have deep impressions made on me by
    leaders who used their power unconsciously or irresponsibly. I vowed never to
    do it myself, yet the discipline I found was tougher than it looked from the
    outside.

    I found that I
    was not always naturally on my best prior to every committee, business or board
    meeting.

    I discovered
    outside influences had tremendous effect on my nature, which would skew my own
    perceptions, if left unattended.

    I realized that
    I needed to prepare for each meeting like I used to for each stage performance
    because, guess what, I was on stage!

    Actors Tips for
    Leading When the Curtain Rises

    * My presence as
    a leader: The organization was being felt even prior to the meeting because of
    the content and tempo of my daily communications. I needed to increase
    awareness about my daily messaging.

    * Reflect: Prior
    to going into the meeting, reflect on how your own moods, manners and consciously
    choose what to keep and what may hold you back from a stellar performance.

    * Group
    Dynamics: Take a moment and examine the past interplay of this team and how you
    fit into leading their established dynamic into a better script for success.

    * Listen Like a
    Leader: Knowing where you are centered is important, yet any audience that is
    asked to engage will want to know they are being listened to and not just
    talked at by their leader. Understanding their many methods of feedback will
    keep the desired outcome on track.

    Thank you for
    another post that fires up the creative spirit and brings home our
    responsibilities as leaders to understand and use our power wisely.

    Michael, I very
    much appreciate your words today. I too have deep impressions made on me by
    leaders who used their power unconsciously or irresponsibly. I vowed never to
    do it myself, yet the discipline I found was tougher than it looked from the
    outside.

    I found that I
    was not always naturally on my best prior to every committee, business or board
    meeting.

    I discovered
    outside influences had tremendous effect on my nature, which would skew my own
    perceptions, if left unattended.

    I realized that
    I needed to prepare for each meeting like I used to for each stage performance
    because, guess what, I was on stage!

    Actors Tips for
    Leading When the Curtain Rises

    * My presence as
    a leader: The organization was being felt even prior to the meeting because of
    the content and tempo of my daily communications. I needed to increase
    awareness about my daily messaging.

    * Reflect: Prior
    to going into the meeting, reflect on how your own moods, manners and consciously
    choose what to keep and what may hold you back from a stellar performance.

    * Group
    Dynamics: Take a moment and examine the past interplay of this team and how you
    fit into leading their established dynamic into a better script for success.

    * Listen Like a
    Leader: Knowing where you are centered is important, yet any audience that is
    asked to engage will want to know they are being listened to and not just
    talked at by their leader. Understanding their many methods of feedback will
    keep the desired outcome on track.

    Thank you for
    another post that fires up the creative spirit and brings home our
    responsibilities as leaders to understand and use our power wisely.