Secret of Leadership and Power

Leadership“Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it.”
– Hannah Arendt

The concept of leadership can mean different things to each person.  People have various styles of leadership.  So what makes someone a leader, and how does he exert influence, or power, on others?

When I heard about Arendt’s theory of power in a class, I was first surprised by the seemingly paradoxical standpoint.  Arendt says that violence is an indication of the lack of power.  But use of violence and force is often associated with power, as we see in ever-increasing military forces in the world today.

If you think further, though, when you have to threaten someone to exert influences, it does show your weakness.  Apply this to leadership (e.g. I will fire you if you do not do this), and it is a very sad mechanism.  Kenneth Boulding called this “Threat Power.” Unfortunately, this kind of power still dominates our society and ways of thinking.

In this paradigm, though one may manipulate others’ behavior through threat and fear, he is ultimately incapable of changing their mind.  In other words, people do not want to follow him, but are forced to.  If you follow this logic, all of the dictators of our history were not leaders, nor were they powerful.  They just supplemented their lack of power with violence.

Then where can true power be found?  I was once attending a lecture by Paul Chappell, where he said that peace leadership is the “purest form of leadership.”  This is because, unlike business or military leadership, where you are giving people compensation for their work, peace leadership asks people to work hard and risk their lives without paying them.  This form of leadership exerts power on a completely different dimension than, say, dictatorship.

True leadership empowers others and inspires them to take action, rather than forcing them.  As a leader, you are more powerful in this way; when others come to share the same vision as you do and own it, your forces are literally multiplied.

I have met many “leaders” in my life, in many different settings.  There are quite a few I truly admire.

There is one factor that those people have in common: they are surrounded by people who would do anything to support them.  The leader himself may not be the most eloquent speaker or the most assertive one.  But because they are surrounded by many capable individuals, they are all the more powerful.

So what attracts people to those leaders?  From my personal experience, I have noticed that:

  1. They genuinely care about those around them. You know they will always have your back.
  2. They respect others and are very humble.  You feel great being around them.
  3. They have a great vision. You want to be part of it.

What do you think are secret ingredients of true leadership?

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