(Ab)Using Your Power

Being a leader gives you power. Power over people’s lives, happiness, careers and successes. Power over investors return on investments and client’s satisfaction with what they receive. You have the right and the power to expand and create growth all around you by bringing out the best in each individual.

But you also have the power to reduce, to cut, to shrink. Being responsible when it comes to money, to hiring, investing and adding up expenses is necessary and a positive thing. However, what we are talking about here are things like mental shrinking, thinking small, reducing opportunities and making people around and below you shine a little less.

Different cultures, leadership experts and time periods don’t always agree on what good leadership is. But bad leadership is universal and the criteria for it extends beyond time, gender, place, race and upbringing. The most fundamental element in a bad leader is the abuse of power.

Abusing power comes in many forms and sizes. Whipping people is no longer an option physically, but we hear many tales of managers applying the verbal whip nonetheless, speaking in disrespectful outbursts or biting sarcasm with the same intent: to lessen and humiliate subordinates, who cannot speak up because they are not on equal terms and fear losing their jobs.

There are also more subtle abuses of power. Like rebooking meetings constantly when something more important comes up, sending a junior executive to fetch your dry-cleaning or taking over a subordinate’s pre-booked meeting room without any logical excuse, explanation, the courtesy of an apology or merely asking. Or handing out/ holding back small favors like permitting you to present your own achievements to senior executives, C-level or even the CEO, depending on the mood of the day or whether you managed to step on his/her feet.

Sometimes a manager will hint at the opportunity for promotion or a raise and then not follow through, just to squeeze out the last drops of performance. He/she might also be a fan of the “divide and conquer”, never tackling the whole team at once but doing everything 1:1, leaving team meetings to be a one-way communication experience with no decisions made in those meetings.

Our advice is to take a careful look in the mirror and ask yourself: do I honor the power vested in me by this organization to do something good or something good for myself? Do I ever abuse my power? Or do I use it?