It is common to refer to a senior executive as a “Leader” because they have a c-level title. Are you a leader because you have one of the top job titles in your company? Is leadership something earned through promotions or the number of people reporting to you? If you believe that positional power makes you a leader, you are mistaken.
Leadership is not a given because you have reached the c-level. We call senior-level people leaders because their position is at the top of the organization. And one of their main responsibilities is to lead. But it does not mean that because they hold that title that they act as a leader. Senior-level positions are at the top of an organization’s structure, thereby creating power. Having that power does not make you a leader.
Abuse of positional power is one of the most common mistakes people make at the top of organizations. Abuse comes in many forms, but one common form is telling others what to do when they know what to do or can figure it out; command and control may feel like ‘leading’ to some people. There are many times in an executive’s career that they must direct others. But if that is the only way the executive exercises their leadership, they will not be effective. This is one of the most significant reasons why executive teams are not trusted and why employee engagement is stagnant.
Positional power is given by the structure of the organization not your ability to lead others.
Instead of power, influence is what great leaders use to lead and they try not to use their positional power. Influence is earned by trusting and respecting others and is a more powerful leadership tool. Effective leaders have many strategies and tactics but some alternatives to directing are:
- Making declarations about the future and enrolling others into seeing a vision about what the organization can become
- Asking others what to do; utilizing the power of requests and allowing others to make counter-offers to your requests
- Enrolling others into the strategies of the organization and engaging them into establishing the tactics and setting stretch goals
- Not solving problems that others can solve – holding them accountable and assisting where necessary in the process but resisting the temptation to have the answer
- Use coaching conversations instead of telling others what to do; ask, listen, paraphrase and lead them through dialogue to discover better ways to do something
- Ask for feedback and use it to improve
One of the most damning things that an executive can do is to act as though they have all the answers. And when they combine this with acting like they don’t need to improve because they have arrived (look at my title), it dramatically minimizes their leadership effectiveness. Leaders lead, and the most effective leaders demonstrate that continually learning and improving themselves is an important priority. Executives have the responsibility to ‘go first’ (lead) to develop themselves and improve their leadership effectiveness. Increase influence and decrease power & control!