Elements of personal power: optimism, vision, focus, showing up, real, supportive

Our faithful friend the dictionary reminds us that a leader is one who “shows the way, directs the course by going before or along with, who guides or causes to follow.” Please take note of all the verbs that are integral to that definition. Contrast that with a person who believes that it is primarily their position of authority in an organization that makes him or her a leader.

var collab_title = 'True measure of leadership much deeper than position';

Truly being a leader is much more complicated and challenging than simply exercising power. Although unjust, unwise and inappropriate uses of power and authority are regrettably pervasive in our world, my subject here is the other end of the continuum: the positive use of personal power. This is sometimes called “social power,” which is the essence of true leadership. This type of power is inclusive, nutritive, synergistic and integrative. It builds up people and organizations, rather than simply directing their activities.

A corollary is that people who have positive personal power may not necessarily be in positions of authority. Charismatic leaders can be “without a pulpit” or an important title, yet still be very influential. A simple test of whether or not you rely on your position of authority versus your skill at true leadership is to ask yourself whether or not the people in your organization would voluntarily follow your lead. If they wouldn’t, you are not truly a leader.

Managers who have both the skills of leadership and the authority of their position have tremendous potential to impact both people and events. The constructive use of personal power involves the willingness to minimize self-interest and self-centeredness in order to make choices and take actions that are for the greater good.

Based on my observations and experiences of more than 30 years of serving in leadership positions and coaching managers in the art of leadership, I have developed some strong convictions about the appropriate and beneficial uses of power. Great leaders understand when, where, why and how to use their personal power for the good of the organization. (Of course, these leadership principles are universally applicable, and you can substitute the words “family,” “neighborhood,” “community” or anything else that describes a group of people.) Following are six key aspects of positive personal power.

First, good leaders use their power in a positive manner by accessing and articulating their personal sense of optimism – having faith and hope, believing that positive change can and will happen. It is “trusting the process” and knowing that if the process has integrity, it will lead to a positive result. Please note that positive results are not necessarily predictable. Not even great leaders can know the ultimate outcomes of their efforts or foresee the events and circumstances that may impact their organizations. Yet in the face of it all, these leaders maintain a positive attitude of confidence and optimism and the ability to keep circumstances in perspective. Obstacles and even setbacks are seen as learning opportunities and challenges, not defeats.

Second, positive leaders hold a clear vision for their organization and usually even beyond the boundaries of their organization. They have the ability to always see the big picture. They have a conviction and passion for a desired future that is compelling and inspiring. These leaders are able to share their vision and engage others in being a part of creating that desired future.

Third, these leaders are goal-oriented. They have a strong sense of purpose and the ability to focus on the top priorities. They understand the importance of following an action plan that leads to the achievement of mutually agreed upon goals and objectives. Importantly, they work quite consciously to keep the forward progress and acknowledgement of goal achievement a constant point of reference in the organizational conversation.

Fourth, positive leaders have the willingness to take action, to make decisions and take calculated risks. They are able to be both creative and disciplined in evaluating and selecting options, and the bias is always toward forward movement. These leaders “show up” by literally being physically present, visible

and actively engaged in the life of the organization. You can’t lead from the golf course or by “mailing it in.” You can direct from a distance, but you can’t lead.

Fifth, leaders who exemplify positive power are authentic, willing to be seen and heard and speak their truth. They are people of substance and character. Their behavior is consistent and reliable, based on their clear and congruent personal values. Integrity is their fundamental moral compass. These leaders demonstrate self-acceptance of both their talents and their limitations. Being authentic is a prerequisite to being extraordinary.

Finally, the main focus of positive personal power is of course on relationships. Great leaders support learning, growth and development of people. They cultivate relationships and create systems and standards that honor and value those relationships, both within and outside of the organization. Although action and accomplishment are highly valued, people and principles come first. The leader is a role model, and his or her actions are the primary teaching methodology. Understanding, compassion and concern for others are the hallmarks of positive personal power.

If you practice these principles of leadership, your impact will be profound. In addition, you will personally enjoy the deep satisfaction of mastering the difficult and complex craft of leadership. Leadership is like any work of art – it has the potential to be quite beautiful.


Mary Luttrell is a certified management consultant and business coach who helps leaders be more effective and their organizations be more successful. Industry analyst James Kennedy named her firm as one of the “100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America,” and she has helped hundreds of organizations over the course of her 26 years in business. Contact her at thecoach@sonic.net or 707-887-2256.

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