Leadership: Why influence, trust and respect matter more than power and control.

Having served as an elected official for a number of years I’ve witnessed my fair share of power struggles to say the least. These nasty little occasions of people fighting against each other, whether openly or behind each other’s backs, to gain power, control and the upper hand doesn’t just happen in politics. Whether its businesses, churches, your local high school and all points in between if there’s an organization you’re going to have organizational politics and a battle for someone to be at the top of the hierarchy. But is to gain power through fear, intimidation and at times outright deceit a way to achieve lasting success? I guess that depends upon your definition of success but ultimately I would say no and here’s why.

Machiavelli’s famous treaty the Prince made it abundantly clear that it is better to be feared than to be loved in a leadership role if the option of being both isn’t available. In considering this through the years and having served in multiple leadership positions I would make the observation that the two feelings towards any given leader are mutually exclusive and that its never going to be an option for a leader to be feared and loved at the same time in the world we currently live in. I would also make the argument that being feared in pursuit of doing anything, although it may lead to a desired outcome, is more akin to being a bully as opposed to being a leader in that manipulating people through fear and intimidation may lead to personal power but will never lead to a position of influence that can be sustained while lasting well beyond your time at the apex of any hiearchy.

A friend recently made the point that power is given, whether willingly or not, while leadership is a mantle that is earned through actions which build trust in those around you. I fully agreed with him in that what I’ve witnessed firsthand by individuals who try to accumulate power in any given field is the process in and of itself builds mistrust while creating plenty of people who want to knock those individuals off of their pedestal should they ever get to the position they’re striving for. Ultimately, the pursuit of power and control in attempting to gain a position of leadership simply undermines the ability to truly lead those around you from the start.

Influence, if cultivated and exercised wisely with the goal of using it to empower others, is intrinsically different from power in that it involves actively building trusting relationships through open and honest communication which contributes to an atmosphere of mutual respect with the people around you. Influence in its best form is not to be given or taken but must be earned over time with great patience with the real potential to positively impact people’s lives more than sheer power ever could. In the end influence, unlike power, can last for generations with the lives of those who have exercised it wisely continuing to serve as an example for others to follow long after they’ve left their positions of leadership.

During my life the greatest leaders I’ve ever known have influenced those around them to work harder, to dream bigger and to go further with their lives than people ever thought they could. For me, these influential leaders have been people like teachers, mentors, family members, role models, my parents and friends who’ve helped keep me grounded throughout my life while at the same time supporting me in my pursuit of often times lofty goals. I’ve come in contact with many people who I’ve considered to be powerful along the way as well but they’ve never really had the same impact as I’ve often watched them simply rise and fall over time.

In the end I’ve always thought that saying someone had a positive influence on your life was a far greater compliment that noting that someone was, at some point in their lives, a very powerful person. And that is why for me personally influence, trust and respect will always matter more than power and control.

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