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Some people buy cars based on engine horsepower. Candidly, I see no purpose in having a car with 500 horsepower when you live in a country that prohibits speeds of over 70MPH and in cities that experience heavy traffic, but every time I see a shiny sports car with high horsepower, I have to wonder, what’s the draw? The same can be said for leadership. What is the purpose of revving your engine or your prowess or power and showing off a 500+ horsepower sense of authority if the team you lead is stuck in a traffic jam?
There are times when power works, times when authority is needed and times when influence is the name of the game. The trick is knowing when to use which effort to achieve the desired result. Here is a guide to help you determine those choices:
1. Determine what the desired outcome is that you’re looking for? (productivity, obedience, input)
2. Identify the type of individual you’re leading. Will they push back on authority? Not get it with influence?
3. Try the path of least resistance first. This would be influence and usually looks like leading by example or suggesting a course of action that would be better or asking for the employee you lead to share with you how he or she would handle it if he were in your shoes.
4. If that doesn’t work, try power. This would involve a more direct approach and usually sounds like giving a direct order in the military or a sharing of specific actions that are expected to be taken. If you are going to use power and spell out the action, remember that you are training that team member to come to you for guidance, vs thinking for himself. You are training him to not utilize the creativity and initiative that we often ask employees to exhibit.
5. If that doesn’t work, try authority. This would mean you are leaning on hierarchy and title and sharing consequences and rewards for the behavior or action you wish to have carried out. Shutting down a conversation prematurely by relying on your authority alone sends a very clear message that you are no longer open to input and for some this may also mean that you will receive no more input on ANY subject going forward. With authority, timing and circumstances become critically important as this last resort type of step is more about managing a task than leading a person. This should be a conscious choice, not a knee jerk reaction.
Using power or authority prematurely is a little like revving your engine when folks are in a traffic jam. You can’t really experience the full value of the power you’re exerting until and unless you’ve given some thought to your surroundings and the needs of the team members you’re leading. After all, you wouldn’t gun the engine just for fun and waste all that gas if all you could see ahead of you were brake lights. Pay attention to those you lead and then you can determine if you need to whip out the thrusters and use all that horsepower. Without paying attention, you’ve just got a pretty, shiny title …er…um… car… and nowhere to really use it effectively.