Positional Power

As I walked down the hallway I passed a variety of typical Halloween decorations; pumpkins, cobwebs, black cats and everything orange, it was a sea of orange! Then I saw something that caught my eye, enough so that I had to stop and take a closer look. It was a ghost, who appeared dark and evil, holding a sign that said “free hugs.” I knew needed to take a picture of it, I felt like there was something there, but I wasn’t sure what it was yet.

On my drive home, I continued to think about what I had seen. I am not one to get scared or startled by images of a darker nature, but I just couldn’t shake the thought of a ghost offering free hugs. The image made me feel uncomfortable and nervous, I would even say it was unsettling. It was such a mixed message. On one hand, it looked scary, like something that you would want to stay away from, but on the other hand, it was offering free hugs and who doesn’t want free hugs? This simple image was such a strong contradiction. And then it hit me, I’ve worked for people for whom this imagine could be their logo.

This image is what Positional Power feels like to me. Positional Power is thought of by many to be a fundamental elemental of leadership, but I couldn’t disagree more. The is no room for Positional Power in leadership. Positional Power is that which is gained by authority, by rank or title. Positional Power is also one-directional, the “leader” is the only one who is good enough to have anything to offer.  This could come in the form of any unilateral decision. It functions under the guise of leadership but it is far from leadership. Positional Power operates from the perspective that I am above you, I have something you don’t have, and I have something you need. You should want what I have to offer you regardless of how it makes you feel because you are less than me. Positional Power may also create a structure in which you owe the leader, often in the form of blind loyalty and support. See, it doesn’t feel right, kind of like a ghost offering hugs.

Relationship Influence is what I consider to be the heart of healthy leadership. Unlike Positional Power this model is rooted in equality. Relational Influence functions with the understanding that we all have something to offer. That we each grow in the process of giving and receiving in acts of service towards others. It also completely dismantles any form of hierarchy and creates space for all to contribute. With Relational Influence each person is valued and seen as someone with something to contribute. And, one of the tell-tale marks of Relational Influence is the fact that it feels good and people want to be a part of it. Unlike a ghost offering free hugs, people gravitate towards others who are rooted in Relationship Influence.

I’ve worked for a variety of so-called leaders and there is a clear trend. When your boss “leads” from Positional Power you will work FOR her, but when your boss embraces Relational Influence you will work WITH her because she knows you have as much to offer as she does. Unfortunately, many people in Positional Power are blind to the fact that their power is inauthentic because it resides in a title, one they cannot outright own. They might be the President of a company today, but Presidents come and go and their Positional Power will remain in that office when they leave. But people who lead from Relational Influence are not dependent on that title, their “power” is authentic because it comes from within and they are able to take it with them wherever they go.

So think about the way you lead. Do you find yourself thinking from a hierarchical perspective forcing your free “gifts” on others? Or, do you freely share with those around you allowing them to take what they need as well as offer their own gifts to the group? I certainly hope it is the latter.

The world needs more leaders who embrace Relational Influence and less ghosts offering free hugs….