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The only way to lead effectively when you can’t force people to do something is to be an example, share information, and lead from a place of caring.
If the true goal of leadership is motivating people to achieve goals and effect change, the old model of using positional authority may never have been the most effective.
There are six bases of interpersonal power, or the ability to effect change.
Leaders can lead through referent, expert, and informational power, using purpose-centred inspiration while changing work organization to replace domination with the focus on wellbeing, outcomes, flexibility, and participation.
Positional leaders still can and need to use legitimate, reward, and even coercive power when appropriate. However, as work becomes increasingly cognitive or even emotional, the relative importance of the referent, expert, and informational leadership will continue to grow.
Referent power is about leading by example. Aspiring leaders and those retooling to lead in the post-pandemic world can develop their referent power through modelling transparency and authenticity, as well as listening and compassion.
Activist leaders must practice what they preach. An effective environmental activist can’t be irresponsibly consuming resources. Similarly, if one expects colleagues to contribute high-quality work, setting an example of competence and commitment is non-negotiable.
In addition to authenticity, listening to and understanding others underpins human connections. Relationships are much more intrinsically motivating than transactional rewards and punishments. Even before the pandemic, 78% of employees were willing to switch jobs to get more empathy. And 77% were willing to give more hours of work to an empathetic employer. Now, as the stress and burnout are taking a toll on employees, managers face an even taller order to exhibit compassion.
To build on the referent, expert, and informational power, leadership must center on shared purpose. Both activism leadership and thought leadership unite diverse people from around the world because the cause or the idea intrinsically inspires them. Authentically uniting talent around a sense of purpose is increasingly the task of all leaders. Earning the respect of people and supporting them with care and dignity provide the relational foundation for the intrinsically inspired work.
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