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Does Power Affect a Leaders' Influence?

The shift from heroic leaders to value creating teams. Or, does the notion of the powerful leader diminish effective team innovation, collaboration and growth whilst the leader as a skilled influencer enlarges it?

I’m writing this at a time when the importance of influence has never been more critical. Look at political parties in the headlines or consider your own understanding of teams and where both power and influence lies and the comparative effect of both. Teams are complex beings hence the fact that applying existing research on individuals to teams is complicated.

At Teamery we have seen how successful leaders know their team members well and support them to be the best they can be. In doing this they are also able to negotiate effectively seeking to understand others perspectives so that the options they come up with benefit everyone. They gain support through influencing, often with specific messaging they know will land most effectively individually and collectively.

Creativity and innovation which are so critical for organisational relevance and increasingly long-lasting success, lie at the heart of teams that work to influence rather than control others, they invite new ideas to find creative solutions to problems, are inquisitive to other points of view and create space for others to take the lead. They believe strongly in what Linda Hill calls the ‘Collective Genius’.

‘Influence leaders’ draw out greatness in others whereas power leaders lead by intimidation and fear seeing it as their right to ‘rule’ over others.

Power struggles have been shown to harm the ability of teams to function and perform. Take the long power tussle between Apple’s Steve Jobs and then CEO John Sculley which impacted the team effectiveness and outcomes over years.

Trying to use data collected from research on high power individuals and apply this to teams is complex, for example consider the positive effect of power - increased desire and success to pursue goals, enhanced executive functioning and even improved wellness. Compare this to low power individuals who are either not able to, or not motivated to change their position and often support the systems and hierarchy that suppress them (Keltner et al 2003 & Magry and Gallinsky 2008).

Emerging findings on power in teams suggest that power may shape teams differently than individuals. Power within teams may make people more focused on their dependencies and vulnerabilities towards one another often resulting in instability. Knowing when and how such negative processes are turned on and off can unpack why and when power may have the potential to benefit teams.

Greer identified two primary conceptualisations of power in teams – team power level (a team’s control of valued resources in organisation or broader social systems) and team power dispersion (at its highest when all members within the team hold a high level of power and is lowest when all members within the team hold a low level of power).

Power vested in the team to change the entire system can give the team and its members far reaching power in the company. Take our work with a new team set up to tackle poor service in a tech services business. They were given the wide-ranging remit and resources to investigate, suggest and make lasting systemic changes to the way customer services handled complaints. This enlarged scope together with the power to take action was one of the reasons for success, however the importance of influencing others to see the positive effect of change to them and their clients was what created lasting change.

For leaders, the challenge is feeling comfortable with less power and more influence in the creation of healthy and effective teams. Schedule a call with Teamery to tap into the collective genius in your team.

(Further reading - They dysfunctions of power in teams: A review and emergent conflict perspective - Lindred L Greer, Lisanne Van Bunderen, Siyu Yuc)

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