The Diminishing of Leadership Power

Until only recently, we presumed that leaders should dominate and followers must do as they’re told. But after several revolutions, labor movements, human-rights legislation and the spread of democracy, the world has radically changed. Along with it, leadership carries less power.

Power, authority and influence are in scarce supply for even the most charismatic CEOs, and continuing to devolve. Workers in the middle and at the bottom of the hierarchy have an expanded sense of entitlement, and they’re demanding more and giving less. Technology has helped level the playing field.

Workers are often indifferent, disengaged or outright resistant. There are only two reasons they’ll follow a leader:

  1. They have to.
  2. They want to.

The end of the 20th century marked the demise of command-and-control leadership, although some bosses stubbornly insist on trying to make it work. In its place, leaders are advised to become more participatory—to lead by cooperation and collaboration. (Image: Freedigitalphotos.net)

According to research, and what I’ve experienced in my 30+ years in the field, leadership success is judged on three criteria:

  • Is the leader ethical?
  • Is he/she effective?
  • Does the business make money and provide jobs?

In the workplace, however, followers judge their leaders and ask:

  1. Does my boss have my best interests in mind (and does he/she even know what they are)?
  2. Is my boss looking out for the company’s best interests or his/her own?
  3. Why should I believe, follow and trust this person?

Like most other animals, humans tend to look to strong males to provide what’s most important: safety and security. We’re just like apes and baboons, we like deferring to males whose strength and capacity to lead have been tested. And of course we like to think that’s changing to a more gender diverse arena, but change is slow.

There is no leadership without followership. Good leadership requires good followers, who may be passive or active (depending on context). But followers have generally been slow to embrace empowerment and participate in the leader/follower tango. Why is that?

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