Managing the temptations of power
January 25, 2018
Author: Jopie de Beer, CEO of JvR Africa Group
Why do people with apparent leadership capabilities sometimes fail to “make the grade”? Some of the reasons for the leadership failure may lie in the personal “hardwiring” of the leaders, as human nature is far more complex than what is visible on the surface.
Most people learn about leadership by following and observing other leaders. If they are also competent, loyal, and hard-working, they may grow into leadership positions of every dayn.
Yet, everyday, new studies are published on how disillusioned people are with their leaders. These studies highlight perceptions of leaders having low or no integrity, self-serving attitudes and poor listening skills, being resistant to feedback, and abusing power.
It is generally accepted that power does not only corrupt, but that it actually exposes. A position of power can serve as an excellent platform for those leaders who wish to do well and make a constructive difference to their business and society.
However, a position of power can also allow negative characteristics such as a need for absolute control, personal image, greed, selfishness, laziness, manipulation, and jealousy to flourish uninhibited.
The irony is that a person in a position of power, if not checked by strict governance, consequences, and hopefully a good amount of personal insight and moral values, may allow their natural leadership characteristics (such as confidence, ambition, analytical thinking, strategic orientation and taking initiative) to “morph” into unacceptable versions of these characteristics.
In this regard, confidence could become arrogance, and analytical reasoning could change to being hyper critical of others, both which can lead to becoming abusive and dismissive of people.
Absolute power, when there are not enough checks and balances, corrupts absolutely. Leaders in such powerful positions believe that they are untouchable and can get away with anything. They can become addicted to the freedom, excitement, and money such power provides.
Being able to gamble with resources, taking chances, playing “hide and seek” with information and unduly influencing colleagues can blur all the boundaries of what is generally regarded as “right or wrong”. Like most addictions, it requires a conscious effort to manage the use of power, if not by the individual in power, then by those around them.
What to do?
John C. Maxwell has said that a leader who thinks he/she leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk. Powerful positions can tempt one with the illusion that people do not matter. Nothing could be further from the truth, as poor relationships will boomerang and become the essence of the leader’s failure.
The way you work with people, listen to their feedback, respect their opinions, negotiate solutions, and illustrate emotional control are some of the key characteristics associated with successful leadership. These so-called “soft skills” are actually “core skills”. When asking a group of executives to list the characteristics of a good leader, these are the characteristics they most often pick first.
These core skills can also play an important part in mitigating the temptations of power. This is particularly true if they are based on a very strong set of values that the leader lives by.
Those who are elected to powerful positions have generally earned the opportunity, given their skills, experience, and leadership capabilities. Powerful positions, however, provide fertile ground for a leader to show characteristics that may not have been visible before.
Organisations do well when they not only screen their leadership candidates for their qualifications, experience, and leadership traits, but specifically give attention to the risks associated with placing the person in a position of power and design ways to keep them accountable for their actions.