How to lead: Discovering the source of power

One of the characteristics of leadership is the ability to spur others to follow your direction. But exactly how do leaders do it? Kevin Corley, an associate professor of management at the W. P. Carey School of Business, studies leadership. He says we often assume that what we need is coercive power in order to make people do what we want or need them to do. The key, however, is influence - not coercion. The Business to Go podcast series is brought to you by the W. P. Carey School of Business -- knowledge and skills that you can put to work today in your business and career. [podcast] Learn more: What Do They Value? Access as the Source of Power Kevin Corley in Forbes: “Innovative Thinking for Corporate Culture” Transcript: This is Business to Go -- knowledge and skills you can put to work today in your business and career -- brought to you by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Introduction: One of the characteristics of leadership is the ability to spur others to follow your direction. But exactly how do leaders do it? Kevin Corley, an associate professor of management at the W. P. Carey School of Business, studies leadership. He says we often assume that what we need is coercive power in order to make people do what we want or need them to do. He says that the key, however, is influence - not coercion. Professor Corley: One of the things that I find fascinating about studying leadership is that we really don’t take the time to think about the foundations of leadership. When you stop to think about what the most fundamental aspect of leadership is, it’s influencing other people. It is somehow convincing someone else to do what you need or want him to do. A lot of definitions of leadership are built around that, but we lose sight of it so quickly. When you start thinking about influence, one of the things that immediately pops to mind is the notion of power. Perhaps even more so than leadership, power has become a completely misunderstood and misused term in our society. When you hear somebody say power, power is often equated with strength. You often think or hear about power coming from someone who has done something, but what we know from a lot of research over a lot of years is that power is really just a capacity. It is the capacity to influence other people. The Hollywood notion of power, that it is rooted in strength, could be quite misleading. A leader in an organization might think “I have to have power in order to lead and in order to have power I must have strength. I must be strong.” When they think about strength it’s a show of force – not physical force necessarily, especially in organizations, but that you have to prove to others that you are somehow stronger than them. It’s really coercive power: if you don’t do what I want you to do I will punish you. Or it is power rooted in authority: you will do what I want you to do because of who I am, because of the position that I have. These notions totally miss the point that there are many different bases of power. But when we think about power as a capacity, that it is simply the potential to influence someone else, it opens our minds about the forms of power – where power comes from – that it’s not just in authority, it’s not just in the ability to punish someone. The potential to influence someone can come from the potential to reward. I can provide something for you if you do something for me. It could be salary; it could be financial bonus. But it might also be something like recognition. It might have something to do with providing a non-tangible resource to someone. Imagine someone in the organization who is seen as very charismatic – someone that people want to be around. All of a sudden you get invited to lunch with this person, and other people in the office see you leaving to go to lunch with this very charismatic leader – someone who’s well-respected. Believe it or not, the person who was invited to lunch feels like something’s been granted to him, and the likelihood that he will reciprocate and be influenced in the future probably goes up. The connection between power being the potential to influence and effective leadership being the actual influencing of others is very important in the sense that it provides a path for us to see how anyone in an organization can lead. If you can figure out where your potential to influence others lies -- that power is not just in strength, it’s not just in authority -- then you can actually go about influencing them, demonstrating what we consider to be leadership: getting them to do what you need them or want them to do.