Photo by Robert Anthony

There is a strong, even evolutionary association between leadership and power. It’s coded in us to see those that take charge as those that are somehow more than us, better than us. We applaud the Steve Jobs’ and Elon Musks of the world, emulating their habits, hoping one day we can be like them.

Startup founders perhaps suffer more from the illusion that leadership = power than most people, especially because of the media hype around successful rags to riches founders. When you translate this ego-based viewpoint to the social good space though, it feels off, and not aligned with the ethos of what social entrepreneurship represents.

This “granted power” can seem uplifting, but it is problematic in its very nature. Here’s why:

Problem #1: Granted power can lead to an authority complex
A title by itself will grant you authority over others. Regardless of who you are or what your credentials indicate, if you walk in as a CXO, people will listen that much more closely to what you have to say. This is dangerous, because like anybody else, you can be wrong.

Solution: Use the “obligation to dissent” to allow colleagues to speak up
To correct for this, great leaders allow for the “obligation to dissent”. This allows others the leeway to disagree with you regardless of your authority. Those “under” you no longer feel that way, rather they have right as equal as the leader to say “no” to something.

Problem #2: Granted power can lead to imposter syndrome
At times, you will feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, maybe even most of the time if you’re new to a leadership role. But people will look to you to make decisions. The truth is you can’t know what to do all the time.

Solution: Hire smart, subject matter experts
To correct for this, you appoint people smarter than you in the subject areas you’re unsure of and lean on them on a regular basis. You are no more an imposter than anyone else who was or will be granted that position, but you can’t allow the pressure to be “right” to lead you into making poor decisions.

Knowing these problems inherent in leadership, some organizations are even eliminating leadership roles entirely. Instead, these new type of organizations are relying on teams, not those that lead them. The idea of self-managing organizations isn’t as radical as it used to be and companies like Zappos, Medium, and Morning Star are well on their way of achieving great successes without leadership.

Self-managing organizations is a topic worth an article of its own. Till then, be mindful of the relationship between leadership and power.

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