Over the past 10 years, I have been honored to explore and debate the essence of power with Dr. Tony Baron. Specifically, how power impacts leadership, how leadership impacts culture, and, ultimately, how culture impacts performance.
With a double doctorate in psychology and theology and decades of executive coaching experience with Fortune 100 companies, you can imagine the depth and breadth that Tony adds to the subject. We are currently co-authoring a book that combines Tony’s scholarship and my straight talk about the challenges faced by today’s leaders. Meanwhile, I will be sharing guest posts by Tony over the next several months to give you a taste of what it’s like to have an amazing colleague and friend like Tony Baron. – Sheri Nasim
Most of our seminal leadership theories have been developed around three significant streams: psychology, philosophy, and economics.
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalytical theories on personality, focused on explaining human behavior around the concept of pleasure. Although he sexualized many of his theories, the business community recognized that the consuming public could be enticed to buy simply because of the pleasure that comes with instant gratification.
Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher in the 18th century, stressed that pleasure is most enjoyed in a position of power within a social context. According to his famous work, The Will to Power, Nietzche’s thesis is that every action toward another person stems from a psychological desire to bring that person under one’s power. Nietzche’s formative theories on the social context of power are reflected by today’s leadership gurus and academics alike. Author John Maxwell asserts that “leadership is simply influence.” UC Berkeley professor Dacher Keltner maintains that “power is about altering the states of others.”
Milton Friedman, a brilliant scholar and Nobel Prize winner, understood business from a results-driven perspective when he advocated that “the social responsibility of business is to increase profits.” Friedman understood that human beings and, subsequently, organizations are pleasure-seeking and power-driven.
These thought leaders have tapped into our insatiable desire for pleasure, and how power is the ultimate pleasure-delivery system. Unfortunately, what brings personal pleasure to a leader can often have devastating results on the workforce and the public. We all know leaders who focus first on personal pleasure, protect their power at all costs, and treat employees like tools to achieve bottom line results.
The result? A workforce with meaningless vocations and a culture of learned helplessness. Gallup research shows that 68% of the U.S. workforce is disengaged, and the Edelman Trust Barometer finds that nearly 30% of employees don’t trust their employer, and more than two-thirds feel that CEOs are too focused on short-term performance.
One way to test where you derive pleasure as a leader is to ask yourself a simple question: Am I driven to lead or am I called to influence? Consider these differences between the characteristics of leaders who are power-driven and those who are called to lead.
Characteristics of a Power-Driven Leader
1. Lacks empathy for others and the amount of work placed on them to achieve often unreasonable goals.
2. Often reacts impulsively and demonstrates polarizing bouts of intense anger and personal but temporary happiness.
3. Feels they are the exception to the rule and are specially endowed because of their gifts to lead the organization.
4. Takes great pride in increasing and protecting their power through fear-based tactics.
Perhaps, instead, you feel a unique selection, or are called, to the role you are serving. A leader who feels a calling honors his or her responsibility as a steward over a task or organization.
Characteristics of a Called Leader
1. Creates personal margins in their life for reflection on the greater good.
2. Has an accountability group comprised of people who challenge their position and offer diverse opinions.
3. Learns the importance of self-regulation in how they speak, think, and act toward others.
4. Continuously grows to improve their competency and develop their character.
A called leader manifests a non-anxious presence and a determined perseverance to do the right thing, in the right way, with the right people.
Freud, Nietzche, and Friedman have provided us with an understanding of the unfettered drive for pleasure through power. Power-driven leaders may achieve short-term results, but invariably do so by violating character, values, and vision. We can be better. In fact, we can be called.
Dr. Tony Baron is Distinguished Scholar-In-Residence at Center for Executive Excellence and an internationally recognized speaker, writer, corporate consultant, professor and the San Diego Director of Azusa Pacific University Graduate School of Theology.
Dr. Baron is the author of six books, including The Art of Servant Leadershipand a workbook manual co-written with noted author and business leader Ken Blanchard. Throughout his career, he has worked with hundreds of companies including Ford Motor Company, Coca Cola Company, Warner Brothers Studios, and Boeing, among many others.
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