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BK Blog Post
Posted by Susan Fowler.
Susan Fowler is the author of Why Motivating People Doesn't Work...And What Does as well as several articles on the topic of motivation.
If you are a manager, supervisor, or an executive at any level, I think you’ll find the latest research on leadership power relevant to your job, the people you lead, and the results you seek.
Consider this story shared by a woman in a workshop I was teaching on motivation.
While taking her normal elevator ride up to her office she found herself alone with the CEO of her company, whom she had never met. As she explained, “My heart raced. Should I introduce myself? When will I ever have another chance like this? But what if I make a bad impression?”
By the time the woman could gather her thoughts and decide what to do, the elevator stopped, the CEO stepped out, and the moment was lost. As she rode up the final few floors she was flooded with emotion.
“I was shaking. I was sad—disappointed—mad—frustrated—angry. I couldn’t believe how one person entering the elevator and not saying a word could generate so much negative emotion in me.” The woman said it had been a horrible way to start the day.
What caused all of the mental anguish? Real and perceived power. Without the woman’s perception of the CEO’s power, the dynamic in the elevator would have been far less tense for the woman. Research bears this out.
Dr. Drea Zigarmi, Dr. Taylor Peyton Roberts, and I recently completed research on how a leader’s power affects people’s motivation. We found that leaders at all levels need to be mindful and clear about the types of power they have and use. Our findings showed that the use—or the perceived use—of leader power usually results in people experiencing suboptimal motivation. Let’s take a closer look.
In 1959, social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven described five bases of power that are typically in play in the workplace.
Why are perceptions of power so important to understand? Because of their impact on motivation. A leader’s use of power can undermine people’s need for autonomy, relatedness, and competence (ARC)—the three psychological needs required for people to thrive, produce, and sustain high performance. Because people can potentially perceive their leader as having power over them in any of these five areas, you could be undermining people’s motivation and not realize it.
Here are insights on how to use your five bases of power more wisely:
As my colleague Dr. Drea Zigarmi so aptly puts it: “Power is very precious stuff. It entices the leader into flights of self-delusion and separateness from those they lead.”
Over 125 years ago, Lord Acton wrote the famous line, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and the less famous line, “The sole advantage of power is the ability to do more good.” Based on our research, we might follow with this advice: Let go of your dependence on power to get work done. Instead, consider your power as an opportunity to do more good by developing ARC-supportive skills to understand, appreciate, and respond to people’s psychological needs. You will create a workplace where people are optimally motivated to achieve results and have the energy, vitality, and well-being needed to sustain those results. Powerful!
About the Author
Susan Fowler is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies, co-creator of the company’s Optimal Motivation and Situational Self Leadership training programs, and the author of the bestselling book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing.