Power to the People — Leaders and the Ethical Use of Power

Vuisten (fists) - Power, by Bolwidt on Flickr

Photo Credit: Vuisten (fists) – Power, by Bolwidt, Flickr

Power to the People

The public exercise of power is often disliked, mistrusted, or undermined in our society. Roots of this suspicion of power are deep, but this suspicion is often grounded in the exercise of positional power that is not founded upon personal power. It is distasteful to see people occupying positions of power without also embodying the personal credibility to support and enact this power effectively. In contrast to resistance that is often the result of excessive use of positional power, personal power helps to develop followers and their commitment to organizational goals.

Asking the Right Questions

In terms of when and how power can be used most effectively and more acceptably, I would point to the importance of the ethical use of power. On this point Richard Daft identifies key questions leaders need to ask. Some of these questions ask whether the action and use of power…

  • …is consistent with the organization’s goals,
  • …respects the rights of individuals,
  • …meets standards of equity and fairness, and
  • …is consistent with how one would behalf if the action would affect them personally.

These guidelines for ethical action help in thinking through how power is being utilized. To engage power effectively, acceptably, and ethically, leader’s need to be comfortable that the answers to such questions are focused on the good of others and the organization rather than simply serving themselves as leaders.

A Commitment to Serving Others

On this point, I appreciate the emphasis of people like Robert K. Greenleaf who write on the theme of servant leadership. Greenleaf emphasized that the servant leader was to be servant first. In other words, Greenleaf emphasized that the most acceptable or beneficial leader for a community is the one who at their core is a servant, and who then expresses this servant-oriented heart through a leadership role. Greenleaf emphasized that true power rested with followers who recognize a servant-oriented person and then attribute personal power to them. From this personal power, the servant-leader may then lead effectively and ethically.

In my view, this is the best place from which to use power—using it from a place that recognizes the best power is that which has been freely granted to the leader by the personal trust of followers.

_______________________

What do you think of Greenleaf’s point? How do you see leaders using power ethically and responsibly?

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