Why you should care about your power base 

As leaders we need to understand what gives us legitimate power. Aside from the power of force i.e weapons, numerical strength or even personal muscle power, there are other more accepted forms of legitimate power granted by followers to leaders, that you should be aware of.

TRADITIONAL POWER was based on an acceptance of the ruled that the ruling group had the right to rule - monarchy's, chiefs and family businesses often passed ruling power on to eldest sons or family following accepted principles of succession. Often there was a delegation of authority to lower levels via high priests, knights or relatives. This system is only strong if there is consensus in the right or fairness of the existence of the monarchy (or chosen ones). In the past this style created a paternal style of management and has become less relevant  today in more economically developed countries.

CONSENSUS-LEGAL power follows the parliamentary democratic format and is based on a premise that members of society should have some say in the leader choice and system of governance - thus needing consensus on a set of guiding rules for approving (and removing) leaders. It is subject to abuse by those in power if not supported by strong enough checks and balances. In business this reflects in shareholders appointing Boards to govern, and management to operate the organization - promotion on merit and ability is a key driver to positions of power.IT also requires a clear organization structure with defined authorities and job descriptions.

CHARISMATIC power differs from the above in that authority is not invested with a rank or office, but with a personality. Often political or religious movements, or social networks and clubs, build up on compelling personal qualities of an individual. This can also be seen in organizations - one of the most powerful foundations for gaining loyalty and subordination is an ability to get followers to identify with the leader. A major problem with this base of power is that succession is not provided for, and the organization can be a prisoner to the whims of the leader, or be threatened by the arrival of a challenger with stronger charisma.

EXPERT authority  might be the most rational basis for investing authority but brings with it some risks. Some roles are clear where skills are needed such as doctors, teachers, mechanic or PC repairman. Others could be based on knowledge or information relative to a problem we face. We thus build a process of skill building and certification via apprenticeships, tertiary study, licensing and accreditation to help identify those with competence and skills. However in business the complexities often require multi-skills and interpretation to ensure success. 

Knowing your power base is important as it allows you to adapt your style to your followers expectations . Furthermore having legitimate power allows a leader to manage upwards - such as a well respected CEO selling her ideas to her Board and downwards when getting staff to rally around support for a new initiative or change.

Till next week

Key take-outs:

- Understand your power base

- Build the consensus of your followers

- Ensure openness and fairness in succession planning

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