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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

30 May '13

Leadership and power

Posted by T.J. Addington
As a student of people, a leader, a leadership coach and an avid reader of biographies (including those in Scripture) I often think about the relationship of power and leading. I am convinced that power leaves no individual unscathed unless it is deliberately and continually managed and tempered because leadership includes the exercise of influence and power by its very nature.

We have all heard the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Most leaders would not want to think that the adage pertains to them. Certainly leaders I know are generally not corrupt. But, the ability of power to change us can be subtle and insidious. And dangerous.

Consider: because leaders are in a position of power over others it is possible for them to live with greater autonomy and lesser accountability than others. After all, it is a difficult thing to challenge someone who has your livelihood in their hands. The very nature of the relationship makes it so. I know many staff who wish they could say some things to their leader but do not feel the freedom to do so. Perhaps it is true for some of my own staff. Those who have authority over others have much more freedom to speak into the lives of those they lead than the other way around.

That sense of power and freedom can lead unhealthy places: no longer listening to others as we should; carelessness in how we treat others; skirting ethical edges knowing that we will not be called on it; hubris; believing our own press (usually not very objective); thinking ourselves better than we really are (most leaders do); isolation; lack of transparency and even honesty and the list could go on. Any student of leadership, leaders and history knows the story. And it is not pretty.

I am convinced that the greater our leadership platform the greater our need for deep introspection of our lives, an understanding of our fallenness, temptations, and predilections and the depth of relationships with others that can help keep us honest: really honest. Because power all too often leads to dishonesty - the ability we have to fool ourselves regarding our motivations and our actions.

Deeply introspective leaders are more aware and conscious of who they are, what drives them, what their shadow side is and how they need to manage that shadow side than leaders who hide behind the addiction of activity. Driven leaders are often running from themselves, while introspective leaders are driven to understand themselves and live in a place of health! Much of that introspection needs to be around how we manage living with influence and power while living in personal health and wholeness.

Here are some introspective questions leaders can ask of themselves:

  • Are there any areas of my leadership life where I am skirting the ethical edge because I can?
  • Have I lost the ability to be honest with myself about what drives and motivates me?
  • Do I hold others to a standard that is different than the standard  I hold myself to?
  • Do I give my staff complete freedom to approach me on any issue regarding my leadership? Do I foster an open and candid atmosphere where staff feel free to challenge me and to ask hard questions? Am I willing to give my staff the ability to give me feedback on my leadership?
  • Is there any area where I am using my power or influence for personal gain rather than for missional effectiveness?
  • Do my ends ever justify my means when it comes to accomplishing the mission?
  • Have I allowed leadership to develop a "pride of place" in my life that has crowded out personal humility?
  • Do I have a set of core leadership values or guiding principles that I can articulate for myself and hold myself accountable to?
  • What safeguards have I built into my life to keep power from changing me?