February 12, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
The resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt brings home powerful understandings about the interactive nature of leadership.
All who aspire to lead from either the head or the foot of the table can learn something important about power, influence, and authority.
Leadership is all about relationships, and it is followers – not leaders – who ultimately control the balance of power. Part of the unstated contract between leaders and followers is the leader’s willingness to accept and respect that.
Leaders focused on their dominance, ego, image, or past success can forget the fragile nature of the bargain – and we have seen in 24/7 media coverage from Egypt over the past days what the result can be.
Followers, after all, give leaders their power and authority in exchange for the leader’s willingness to provide important services like protection, direction, and the allocation of important resources. The call for leadership – more leadership, better leadership – is always loudest in times of need.
We want leaders with the presumed knowledge, wisdom, experience, and skill to deliver. And we are willing to accord them power – our willingness to follow and to be influenced by them – in exchange for their responding to our needs.
It’s only a matter of time for leaders who can’t deliver or who lose touch with their followers’ needs. In the age of twitter revolutions, the fragile balance of power can shift in a matter of days.
It may be easier to see this tacit leader-follower power bargain when played out in public sector leadership as in Egypt. But organizational leaders, be forewarned. The same dynamic applies to you. Anyone who has tried to lead a department or unit where subordinates have lost confidence in your ability to deliver, an organization without the support of your board, a group who doesn’t believe you understand their needs, an enterprise from the lame duck status of being yesterday’s leadership news knows exactly what I mean.