When Does “Power” Overlap with Leadership?

 When you think of a leader you may picture someone in a high-ranking position of power, or if you’re an athlete, someone who is physically powerful that you rally behind. But what about the janitor who makes sure your office is clean so you don’t waste time in your busy day cleaning up after yourself, or the kicker on the football team who only comes in on a few plays, but often scores the winning points of the game? Why aren’t they your leader?

Leadership is often associated with power, but power is a dubious concept that often results in a dynamic struggle to obtain said power. When your authority is constantly being challenged, you can’t focus on the important issues and lead with impunity. For this reason, most organizations have a head figure with perceived power, while a board of directors pulls the strings that control the organization. The connection of power and leadership ultimately comes down to two forms of power: formal and informal.

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There is always a young elk willing to challenge the old buck. For this reason, someone who holds formal power must always perform at their best. We see this form of power in the office hierarchy of many companies. Formal power is when one employee has power over another because of the title they hold, and not necessarily their qualifications for the job. These are your company’s CEO, CFO, a board of directors, and managers at every level.

These titles come with prestige and added responsibilities. One of the many perks of formal power is that you answer to fewer people, and can abdicate difficult tasks to other employees. These benefits motivate employees to willingly work overtime to get a promotion when a position becomes available. This creates a competitive industry with thousands of young employees vying for a limited number of positions.

Informal power is a person’s ability to influence others. Many people who have formal power have obtained that position because they had informal power before their promotion. These are your hard-working, exceptionally bright, and efficient employees who have a positive working relationship with their peers. Those with informal power often act as a consultant for their colleagues to brainstorm ideas when they encounter a difficult problem.

They are extremely knowledgeable about all things related to their field and they rarely lead coworkers astray with their advice. These individuals typically understand the hierarchy of the organization and act as a confidant for coworkers if there is an issue within the office. Most importantly, those with informal power will remain impartial and offer advice with the best intentions in mind.

These leadership styles are vastly different, but they each have unique responsibilities. A company is lucky to have any person who is willing to lead others and they should encourage each of their employees to build bonds with one another to expand this powerful safety net that we call leadership.

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