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There’s a difference between leadership and power. Successful executives know that difference and lead their teams more effectively because of it. Unfortunately, many executives on the rise in an organization forget the leadership skills and contacts that put their careers on track in the first place.

That way, leaders can build their teams and organization in such a way that their assets and liabilities complement each other.

For example, it’s one of the myths of effective leadership that power alone can help an executive or a company achieve goals.

A study by the CCL shows that as executives advance in a company, they begin to blur the lines between leadership, power, and influence. They see themselves as more intelligent and capable than those around them in the organization. They see people who agree with them as more capable, intelligent, and ethical than those who might disagree.

The result? Executives get affirmation from a small, expected group, which inflates their idea of how powerful and influential they are among the people who work with them. Their influence becomes constricted, and their leadership erodes. Some people overtly use power to accomplish their goals, says CCL’s Pete Hammett, who is also the author of Unbalanced Influence. He says others become used to having tools of power, such as the ability to dictate and set agendas.

Over time, that access to power distorts an executive’s influence in the organization. They may have the title and power, but their disenfranchised team members won’t see them as an effective leader. Those with different opinions choose to remain silent. Or they leave. With them, they take away a whole range of ideas.

CCL and Hammett recommend that executives calibrate their spheres of influence and see whether their team members perceive them as leaders or merely as suits with powerful titles.

Here are 3 ways to proceed:

  1. Find and listen to other voices. A leader should keep in touch with new ideas and fresh perspectives. If all you’re hearing is one voice, then invite others to the conversation. And let them know you really want to hear them.
  2. Find a sparring partner. Find someone who’s comfortable and capable of taking an opposing point of view. That doesn’t mean you should seek out every malcontent in an operation. It means you should find someone who is intelligent, thoughtful, and open to tackling a discussion from an opposing view. Don’t be seen as a leader who refuses to listen to different ideas. Or, worse, one who penalizes people for suggesting them.
  3. Leadership can be cultivated, but only in a self-aware person. Sign up for a leadership program. Get some feedback that assesses your leadership style. Make a point to hold a mirror up to your conversations and interactions within your organization. Only by seeing themselves through others’ eyes can executives go from someone who holds power to someone who leads.

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