The Power of Leadership at
High-Performance Organizations

The power of leadership at High-Performance Organizations is found in the essence of Servant Leadership, the alternative approach to the “default” model most common in society until now: The Command and Control Leadership Model.

Taking a look at it, we may even better understand what Servant Leadership means and why it needs to be the basic thinking for leaders in High-Performance Organizations.

The Command and Control Model

  • Focus is primarily on who has the power, not who uses it intelligently. Authority is largely position-based versus credibility gained or know-how based.
  • Success and status are measured by how much power you have, not how much benefit you contribute to the whole by exercising your power.
  • The Power Model is a zero-sum game. Power acquisition is emphasized and is retained through conscious defense. Self-interest is a key concern in this model and dilutes all attention from organizational needs and common goals.
  • “Power” can be an addictive and corrupting influence.

By contrast, High-Performance Leadership stands on a moral base. Additionally, the focus shifts from self to others, from self- interest to the benefit of the whole.

The Leadership Model in High-Performance Organizations

A High-Performance Leader behaves like a doctor or a personal trainer, asking questions, diagnosing and prescribing for each person in the organization what capabilities need to be developed, challenging to innovate, to create superior value and learn, growing as a human and as a professional.

Leaders at High-Performance Organizations are humble, egoless, focused on the company as a whole, passionate about customers and the business, constantly studying the business internally and externally, obsessed with self-disruption, and their highest priority is building successors who have the DNA of the culture in their blood and are just as passionate about the business.

Likewise, High-Performance Leaders strengthen the business by developing people through coaching at the Gemba, the place where things happen; where customer value is created or delivered.

How does it look like?

At High-Performance Organizations, leaders are entrusted first with the Human Development. The Business results are a consequence of how capable leaders are to develop people who become leaders of their areas of responsibility, solving problems that help improve customer satisfaction. As Akio Toyoda put it:

We are all growing and learning, and we all need teachers and coaches to help guide.  We say at Toyota that every leader is a teacher developing the next generation of leaders. This is their most important job.

Furthermore, leaders must assume this fundamental responsibility keeping the purpose, principles and values of the company, and it is important to remark that they are real leaders mainly to the extent that they do so.

Thinking of a leader as a teacher and coach, as managing from the Gemba, believing deeply that people are the only appreciated assets of the company, believing in the value of intentionally creating a common culture and being a role model of that culture, and that the adaptiveness of the business to meet the challenges of the environment comes from how people are developed all the way down to the worker is quite different from the leader as the captain of the ship steering it cleverly through brilliant personal insights.

Therefore, when compared to Command and Control, it is possible that a question comes up to our minds.

Do leaders at High-Performance Organizations ignore the influence of power?

No, the High-Performance Leadership Model does not ignore or minimize the importance or influence of “power” in an organization. It exists and it might even be considered as important as in the Power Model.

However, power is recognized as a privilege, a responsibility, not an entitlement: leaders at High-Performance Organizations use power just for the purpose of benefiting the whole. In this sense:

  • Power is a tool to the leader, the primary means to help others, not a measure of the leader’s own success or progress.
  • The primary measure of success is the use of power to bring about the good of the organization.
  • Leaders can amass power without seeking it. People generally want to follow servant leaders and volunteer their energies and allegiance.

Power and leadership

In order to understand this, please consider the polarized comparisons of the figure below.

However, the point here is that a High-Performance Leader is inherently trust-worthy and admirable, while the Command and Control Leader smells of conceit and invites suspicion.

We can probably picture leaders we have worked for as primarily one or the other, and likely have emotions about that.

Power is like love, the more you give to others, the more it flows back to you naturally.

Fundamental beliefs of leaders at High-Performance Organizations

When I am asked about what the distinctive beliefs of leaders at High-Performance Organizations are, I really like to go deep into these:

  • Leadership is not about holding on to territory; it’s about letting go of ego and being your best and most authentic self.
    Authenticity is a human attribute that inspires trust. It’s more than just always telling the truth, it’s sharing more than what is necessary. It’s sincerity, transparent disclosure and courage.
  • Leadership is not about succeeding alone; it’s about helping your teams and your organization to succeed.
    If you want to know how successful leaders are, you just need to look at their legacy; how well they have developed the individuals and teams to hit the goals, when they are not there.
  • Leadership is not about being liked; it’s largely a matter of human growth against complacency.
    No organization survives on autopilot. There are always needs, challenges and opportunities to be discovered and satisfied. Leaders manage limits, which is necessary for the essential habit of foresight, but this can never make them become complacent or “careless.” Leaders must strive against self-complacency to prevent organizational complacency
  • Leadership is not about commanding; it’s about building an environment of common trust by unleashing the humanity of people.
    This speaks for recognizing the responsibility of the role. A leader must invest in himself to become a part of that work community, not just act as a care-taker for the scope of his position or narrow responsibility, but rather being an active member, challenging value-creating team activities to unleash the talent of each individual and the capability of the team, to work and learn together.
  • Leadership is not about controlling people; it’s about being a useful coach.
    “Useful” coach is user-defined and situational. What is clear is that leaders must possess mastery in the area they lead, even if it is how to find the mastery needed each time to fulfill common goals.
  • Leadership is not just about positivism and optimism; it’s about creating an ecosystem in which people can do things they thought they could not do.
    Optimism, positive thinking, looking on the bright side, all these are helpful traits. However, they won’t replace the willingness to address core issues or eliminate barriers by helping individuals and teams to raise the bar and deliver what is needed.

In conclussion…

Finally, I just would like to add one of the most brilliant definitions of power I’ve ever heard, by Belinda Johnson, COO of AIRBNB.

Power is the ability to make your organization successful and get everybody working together in synchronization to make your company the most competitive and successful organization it can be.

The power of leadership is infinite. How will you use it today?


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