InsideOut Development

Personal and Position Power

by Malini Janakiraman


“It does not matter whether you lead 10 people or a 100. Your success will depend on how they see you as an individual.’’

These words were from a well-respected executive in a Fortune 500 company where I was invited to speak to a team of leaders. “Lead not just with your position power. Use your personal power to be most effective,” the executive said.

Position power comes from titles and clearly demarcated hierarchies. It is certainly important in organizing, establishing goals, objectives, and defining strategies; but this power will play a minimum role in gaining followers that want to be led by you and its overuse may even come in the way of enabling leadership.

Personal power comes from the values that a leader holds and demonstrates and has nothing to do with titles. Some remarkable leaders have achieved amazing things with either no or very little position power. Mahatma Gandhi held no political office when he enabled India’s freedom from the British. His values of truth, non-violence and fortitude made people rally around him. Mother Teresa became a world-renowned champion of the down-trodden because she exuded such caring and genuine respect for any human being.

As we lead, coach, mentor and develop people in organizations, our success will come from combining personal power with position power. If you think of these as concentric circles, the most effective leader operates at the intersection of this Venn diagram. Credibility, empathy, trustworthiness, valuing and respecting people, and showing recognition are traits that build your personal power and have very little to do with your rank or your title. Being vulnerable in sharing successes and failures and apologizing for your mistakes show human elements that build your personal brand from which you can lead and will stay with you as your ranks and your titles change. Some derailers that diminish personal power are shirking responsibility and accountability and playing favorites.

So, whether you are a newly promoted supervisor or a seasoned manager:
1. Take stock of your values and ask yourself if you are displaying them at work.

2. Ask yourself if your followers respect you more for your rank and title or your values and make changes if necessary.

3. Invest in the right behaviors for the long term. Command and control has its limitations.

Define yourself by your personal power and allow it to enable position power. The opposite is a short-term strategy.

Category: Employee Engagement Coaching Leadership Performance Career Development

Picture of Malini Janakiraman

Malini Janakiraman specializes in learning, organizational development, and executive coaching. As a global leader with over 25 years’ experience, she has worked at the highest levels of many well-known organizations worldwide. Malini is a native of Bangalore, India and is fluent in three languages. A vicious field hockey and tennis player, she enjoys yoga, singing in both Western and Indian genres, cooking, and traveling. Malini and her husband-TJ are the proud parents of two children, Vikram and Vanitha and two adorable granddaughters, Janaki and Shivani.

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