Using power well as a leader means guiding and looking out for others, and elevating people who will do the same.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” This quote has been attributed to the philosopher Voltaire, the British politician Winston Churchill, and even to Spiderman’s uncle! But although the source is uncertain, the message remains clear.
The people at the very top of an organization or group have tremendous power, and how they use it impacts everyone. Being responsible with this power means using it for the benefit of those around them. This involves setting the direction, creating a safe space, and filling key roles.
The key message here is: Using power well as a leader means guiding and looking out for others, and elevating people who will do the same.
Having direction and a shared vision is important in an organization. Without these, personal interests clash and productivity is almost impossible. So, as the highest-ranking person, a leader should use their power to define and reinforce the overall objective. This sets the stage for each person to contribute meaningfully.
But for everyone to make their best contribution, the organization needs to be an encouraging place that’s safe from abuses of power. This also falls on the leader. They should be an example of acceptable behavior, and they should be quick to act when abuses of power happen on their watch.
A great example of this is how U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Jay Silveria responded when African American cadets at the Air Force Academy were targets of racial slurs. He assembled all 6,500 cadets, faculty, and staff, and made it clear that the academy was no place for those who couldn’t treat others with dignity and respect.
In addition to defending others, as the Lieutenant General did, leaders can also create an optimal environment by promoting those who are also committed to using power well. There are three qualities that will set these people apart.
The first is a focus on achievement. This means a person is more concerned with learning skills and doing their job well than with quickly rising through the ranks.
The second quality to look for is warmth. Candidates should care about others and be willing to help them succeed.
The third and final quality is a mature approach to power. A candidate should view power as a tool to help others, and they should know how to use it to best serve the organization at large.