The Value of Power

Socio-Effective Leadership as a Process of Relating

Q. Is power a thing that someone possesses or is it simply force or violence?

A. It’s neither.

Power is a structural characteristic of all human relationships. Put differently, all human relationships involve the simultaneous and palpable operation of both limit and allowance. In order for us to go on together, we have to account to each other for our actions.

If power is a structural characteristic of human relationships, then the structural characteristic of power is interdependence. For example, when we depend on others more than they depend on us, they have more power. Not to mention, the power of the more powerful depends on the recognition of the less powerful that this is indeed the case. Power and interdependence requires mutual recognition.

When we recognize the dynamics of power and interdependence in all manifestations of relationships, we become socio-effective. Socio-effectiveness comes about in the process of people holding each other accountable for their actions in some way. It emerges as a quality when people act towards each other in a way that recognizes their interdependence. It’s not a cult value or corporate vision. Socio-effectiveness is necessary. Without socially effective interaction… relationships break down.

Socio-Effective Leadership

The dominant discourse on strategic management calls on leaders of dynamic human organizations to provide the appropriate values for their members and to inspire them with compelling visions of the future. Surely, those members closest to your stakeholders want direction and structure to their work. They want to feel comfortable and secure in what they’re doing of course… but too much direction and authority is debilitating. It decreases members’ confidence to solve social problems on their own. Too much direction and authority can suppress their creative capacities. Traditional notions of leadership can result in dependency. It can inhibit members from doing meaningful work.

Socio-effective leaders limit their influence and allow the members involved to solve problems.

In her research, Linda A. Hill (Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration and Faculty Chair of the Leadership Initiative) found that

“They stopped giving answers, they stopped trying to provide solutions . . .” Instead, what they did is they began to see the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the young sparks, the people who were closest to the customers, as the source of innovation.”

Allowing those closest to a situation to resolve the situation requires keen focus. It requires the leader to reflect and pay close attention to the impact they have on others. It requires paying close attention to when you should step back and let the members do the work that they need to do.

On everything I love… it’s a thin line between leadership and insanity. Leadership is a form of relationship. Mutually recognized as having more power in the relationship, leaders have to not only give direction but also say, “This is your work — how do you think you want to handle it?” Participating in the challenge of addressing human-related issues means limiting your direction and authority to enable your members to decide what to do in circumstances where they feel uncertain. It means expressing belief in their ability to solve their own problems and encouraging members to think for themselves rather than someone thinking for them.