Day 20: A Leadership Lesson Even I Have The Right To Teach

I’m 23. I’m no Bill Hybels or John Maxwell.

Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr., I haven’t taken the reins of a world stricken with inequality and steered it onto the brighter path towards equality. Unlike Winston Churchill, I don’t have the resolve or the ‘bulldog spirit’ to lead a nation in the greatest war this planet has ever seen. I haven’t had the experience, the teaching or the circumstances to give myself the title of ‘great leader’. As far as a pecking order goes, I count it a privilege to be at the bottom of it. Having said that, after nearly four years of leading people in some capacity or another, there is one leadership lesson that even I have the right to teach. I’ll get there, but first I want to talk about power.

The Three Dimensions of Power

As part of my degree I read about what a man called Watson called the three dimensions of power. He’s given them complicated titles, but I’ll put a simple explanation underneath each one.

1. An Interpersonal Dimension

This is the idea that a person has the power to get you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise have done.

(eg. you will tie my shoes if I am bigger than you or can persuade you with some sort of reward).

2. An Organisational-Structural-Cultural Dimension

Basically, an organisation puts things in place, whether written or unwritten, that make it normal or reasonable for some people to do what they otherwise wouldn’t do. It’s the existence of this level that makes it possible for your boss to actually ask you to tie his shoes.

3. A Societal-Structural-Cultural Dimension

Essentially, this is how society responds to particular professions, sectors or groups. The practice of ordering people around on a large scale becomes normal.

(eg. If a police car’s sirens are flashing, you will let them pass because society dictates that you should; that they have the power to make you do so)

To be clear: individuals or groups of people have a capacity to affect the outcomes of others. 

The Important Leadership Lesson:

Here it is. Are you ready?

YOU ARE NOT ENTIRELY IN CONTROL.

And that’s ok. Whether an individual or a group, something will dictate some of the actions you take today, whether you like it or not. This is an important lesson for the following reason:

Honouring your leaders is as important as increasing your followers.

The way you treat the people that have power over you shows humility and a hunger to learn. There might be decisions that frustrate, anger or even upset you – but strong leadership is knowing when to stand up for what you believe in and when to submit to their authority with the admission that maybe, just maybe, you don’t always know best. This has been a tough lesson for me to learn. I am a strong advocate of fighting for what you believe is right and when my leaders share my belief in something, the emotive side of my personality makes me a pretty good person to have on board. However, the issues arose in the early days for me when people made decisions that I categorically disagreed with but had to sit with tightened lips and action them. It was only when those ‘terrible’ decisions were proved to be quite wise after all that I had to concede that my way was not always best. My mindset has shifted and now, if a decision is made that I don’t agree with I will ask questions – not out of sub-ordinance, but simply out of a desire to learn from the fantastic leaders that I have above me.

There are many other discussions about power that we could digress into, but I don’t feel I’ve earnt the right to talk about that just yet. For now, I just want to remind you of the following:

  • You’re not in control, and that’s ok.
  • Honour the people who have power over you. When you do, you show other people the depth of your character and who knows? You might learn something.

Oh, and by the way – it’s also Biblical:

1 Peter 2:13-15

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,
or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

Are there any circumstances where you’ve really reaped the benefits of submitting to authority when you really didn’t want to? Are there times where you’ve fought ‘the power’ and won? How do you feel about the idea of not being in control?
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