4 Ways Leaders Fritter Their Power Away

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Ron Carucci for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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“The last thing I want is to be perceived as a power-monger.” That was what one high-ranking executive recently told me, and the sentiment among top leaders is common. The executive who embezzles money, curries favor with bribes, or gets caught in sordid affairs makes headlines and is justly derided. But our 10-year longitudinal study revealed that the paralyzed executive is just as dangerous, and likely more common.

We conducted more than 2,700 interviews with more than 100 newly transitioned executives, and while the data warned against the allure of using power for self-interest, we saw the greater challenge of power wasn’t exploiting it, but abdicating it.

In an effort to create egalitarianism, to make direct reports feel valued and included, and to avoid risks associated with making tough calls, these leaders struggled to exercise power. 57% found decisions more complicated and risky than they expected, while 61% said people wanted more of their time than they could give, yet felt guilty saying no because they didn’t want to appear inaccessible. Frozen in a need to please or be liked, or in fearful avoidance of catastrophic error, these leaders effectively felt powerless: an astounding 60% of our participants struggled with the fact that people ascribed more power to them than they actually believed they had. Nearly half our respondents indicated believing the power accompanying their jobs was insufficient to execute the objectives with which they were charged.

At some point, probably every executive has lamented, “How is it I have all these resources, and I still can’t make anything happen?” We frequently hear this from new executives. And yet such leaders are often guilty of abdicating the power that they do have. Of the many abdications of power we isolated, we identified four particularly recurring and destructive ones:

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon #1 Rising to Power. Connect with him on Twitter at @RonCarucci; download his free e-book on Leading Transformation.


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