By Timothy I. Thomas
Power is a commodity. There is a limited amount of it to go around. Therefore, I must clutch my power to my chest and never let a shred of it out of my grasp.
Power is organic. Like life itself, it is limitless. Therefore, when I share power with others I lose nothing, and they gain everything.
These two very different viewpoints are not simply philosophy. They are often at the core of whether a business ultimately succeeds or fails. The fact is, leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. True leaders recognize that success in business is never the result of one man or woman’s efforts or exclusive direction: that is the dictator principle. Instead, success is dependent upon the leader surrounding himself or herself with strong and capable followers.
Consider this example.* An innovative entrepreneur founded and served as president of an engineering firm. He was brilliant in his field, and well-respected and well-liked by all his employees. The firm grew to be a recognized industry leader. Nevertheless, the firm was actually on rocky ground. Morale was deplorably low. Frustration levels were high, and continued to mount. Critical decisions slipped through the cracks, resulting in lost opportunities and decreased revenue.
Why? Because the president presided over the company in the role of benevolent dictator. He had sole decision-making authority in every area – human resources, operations, financials, strategy, etc. The managers under him, although they liked and respected him as a person, were self-destructing under his leadership style – as was the company itself. Their hands were tied. They had no authority. Their expertise and knowledge was not called upon. Helpless to take action, they finally ceased to try.
After a number of years, the president of the firm moved on. His position was filled by a woman with a very different philosophy. She believed that success was a team effort. She recognized that without 100% commitment, input, and effort from her management staff, the company would eventual implode. That commitment, input, and effort would only happen when power was restored to her disempowered employees.
She met with each manager and shared her ideals, her philosophy, and her vision for the company. This was vitally important, for it was the first step to establishing trust.
Then, as issues, opportunities, and challenges arose, she gave her staff her full support in making business-critical decisions. She encouraged discussion without imposing her own viewpoint. She facilitated interaction by bringing key people together. She disseminated information and guaranteed equal access to crucial data. And when a decision had been reached, she supported it completely.
The effect was like exploding a keg of dynamite … an appropriate analogy, since she had released power to her employees – and the Greek word for “power” is dunamis, from which we get our word “dynamite.”
By engaging her leadership team in the hope of turning them into a team of all-stars, she freed up time, energy, and creativity across the entire company. Morale skyrocketed. Employees had a sense of ownership, both in relation to their jobs and with regard to the direction of the company as a whole. The company, then in its twentieth year, experienced record-breaking sales for three consecutive quarters.
This is more than an inspiring story – it is a step-by-step recipe for success, with the key ingredient being a power shift.