C.S. Lewis on Empowerment — Exploring Leadership Development

C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Empowerment is vital for effective leadership. It is core to most of our relationships…from teaching, to parenting, to leading.

Leading People to Not Need Us

In discussing love and giving, C.S. Lewis implicitly engages the practice of empowerment. Lewis writes:

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.”

Celebrating Growth toward Independence

This principle is not only essential for effective parenting or teaching, it is also essential for effective leading. It raises a heart-searching question for us as leaders: Are we leading our people to dependency on our leadership, or are we leading them to a place of independence and interdependence?

Recognizing Leader Struggles Along the Way

Organizational leaders who hunger for power and position will have difficulty leading followers to a place of independence. Organizational leaders who struggle with personal insecurity will struggle to free followers to this place as well.

Secure and follower-focused leaders recognize that it is a win for both their followers and their organizations to create pathways where leaders may be both developed and empowered for service.

Finding the Reward of Empowerment

Lewis continues to press his argument:

Thus a heavy task is laid upon the Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward.”

All too often, our saying “they need me no longer” is viewed as a threat rather than a reward. But true love—love that holds the importance of others and their goals alongside our own goals—will lead in such a way that both leader and follower values, goals, aspirations, and dreams may be pursued.

Developing and Deploying Emerging Leaders

In reality, leaders who get the concept of developing and deploying their people do not work themselves out of a job, for such leaders are constantly creating new opportunities for new developing leaders. Great leaders create space for others to flourish. Great leaders identify potential, develop this potential, and release this potential into new roles and opportunities.

Leadership development does not need to be a zero sum game. Thriving organizations and entrepreneurial communities benefit from a regular flow of developed and empowered leaders released into new opportunities.

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How are you wired as a leader around these themes? Do you tend to hold onto authority over others, or are you wired to identify, develop, and release talent in the cause of your organization’s mission? Great leaders empower their people!

Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

Leadership vs. Management, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Leadership vs. Management, on Flickr

Leading from the front requires leading with vision!

Engaging the question, “Why does vision matter?” Burt Nanus offers the following reflection:

Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead form the front. Effective leaders don’t push or production their followers. They don’t boss them around or manipulate them. They are out front showing the way. The vision allows leaders to inspire, attract, align, and energize their followers—to empower them by encouraging them to become part of a common enterprise dedicated to achieving the vision.”

In this brief post I encourage you to consider whether you’re leading from the front or whether you’re leading from behind. Are you calling people to an inspiring vision of what can be, or are you pushing and prodding followers to do what they really are not committed to already?

Vision helps to motivate followers intrinsically rather than extrinsically. Vision helps to lead from the front!

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.

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