Leadership It's an action, not a position.

Over the years I have been involved in identifying, selecting and training future leaders, both in the British military, and in my own veterinary business. Leaders, like people, come in all shapes and sizes, and there doesn’t appear to be one perfect type or fit.

Leadership is an opportunity to serve, not a trumpet call to self-importance

Often it is only when put into positions of stress, or taken well outside of their comfort zone, that those that have the potential to lead, really reveal themselves. There is still some debate as to whether a leader can be trained from scratch, but leadership skills can certainly be taught, and those with potential can be enhanced with the right support, mentoring and coaching.

So why do some people become leaders, and others don’t?
What is the “best” leadership style?
Who is a leader?

Let's consider who a leader is. Sometimes a group just seems to subconsciously elect or defer to a someone with the perceived leadership qualities, but usually a leader is either actively put into the role or puts themselves in the role.

In 1959, French and Raven described five bases of power (and a sixth base, 5 years later):

Legitimate Power

Often this is a person who has been put in the leadership position, such as a Prime Minister or a CEO. Elections, cultural norms or a business's own organisational structure will provide the basis of this type of power

The employer generally gets the employees he deserves

With legitimate power, people are influenced and led by the position/title rather than the person. This power can therefore be unstable, because if you lose your position, your legitimate power will disappear.

Expert Power

This is based on a person's high levels of skill and knowledge. This is often a leader of the delivery of a project, and is the one with the best technical understanding of the task or project.

When you have the expert knowledge, you can fully understand the situation and use your judgement to direct the course of your team. Since you are the expert, people will listen and trust your judgement, and give your ideas value. This power works well, when leading professionals, and by your being a “first amongst equals”.

Reward Power

This results from one person's ability to compensate another for compliance. This reward could be based on the power to increase salaries, hand out promotions, or even just give a compliment. This type of power really incentivises those working for you, to strive to achieve for you. They will expect that if they perform, then you will reward them. Problems will occur if you can't fulfil the promise. Most people in an organisation don’t have complete autonomy over salaries and promotions and need to discuss these with others. Also when you eventually run out of rewards, then you run out of leverage and power.

Never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity

Coercive Power

This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for non-compliance. This is a difficult type of leadership, and can easily be abused. It is a relatively common tool in some sectors, with threats of sacking or demotion being the driver to achieve the results or tasks that you want your team to achieve. If you use this too much, then it will cause resentment and people will leave your team or business.

Informational Power

This results from a person's ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something. Sometimes referred to as the gatekeeper, having control over information that others want or need, puts you in a very powerful position.

This power does not come from the information, but from the ability to control and restrict access to this information, and being able to withhold, share, manipulate or conceal it. Problems can occur when this restriction on information flow starts to impact on the efficient running of the project. In a modern workplace, efficiencies are often achieved by keeping everyone informed and restriction of this can delay or even sink projects.

Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get the hell out of the way

Referent Power

This is the result of a person's perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others' respect. This is a power that is often not earned, and can be easily abused. On its own, it does not convey long term leadership qualities, because eventually you will be “found out” and be lacking in any depth when faced with difficult times. However when linked with other powers such as Expert Power, it can be a very strong combination.

Relying on one form of Power alone can result in a cold style of leadership. To be a true leader, you need a more than a title, or an ability to reward or punish.

Clearly, how leaders behave affects not only their performance, but also the performance of their team. Many of the best leaders are those who are able to use many different forms of power, and choose the right combination for each situation.

How to improve?

Think about why you are a leader, what attributes are you strong in, and more importantly which ones are you weak in.

Ask yourself: Can I reinforce my strengths, and perhaps improve on my weaknesses, such as employing or delegating tasks to others in my team?

  • Am I poor at communicating? Can I get a member of the team to set up a weekly blog or conference call?
  • Am I poor at organisation? Can I employ or delegate to another member of the team the organisational tasks that I am poor at, to free me up to concentrate on what I am excelling at? Can I invest in technology?

Like most high performance arenas, such as professional sports, a coach can make that all important % improvement. Consider using a management coach to help identify strengths and weaknesses and come up with solutions to reinforce or mitigate these areas.

Dr Paul Horwood is a former British Army Officer, a Veterinary Surgeon, and an entrepreneur. He is a director at Sandstone Communications, with a particular interest in the leadership and growth of SME's and businesses in the legal and healthcare sectors.


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