A true leader can influence people’s behavior. They do this by flexing – or adapting – their leadership style in a way that meets the needs of the people around them – individuals or teams.
Adaptable leadership is a subtle, sophisticated skill that can have a tremendous impact.
Personal Power Vs. Position Power
What exactly makes a flexible leader? First, we need to understand that when we lead, we have two kinds of power we can use – position power and personal power.
- Position power. Based on our position or rank. It comes from within the organization, and is bestowed on us by those around us.
- Personal power. Originates from within. This is our own leadership behavior gained through knowledge, behavior, passion, and commitment. It comes from others based on how we behave, influence, and serve them.
With a high degree of personal power, we can lead regardless of our rank or status in an organization.
Think of people you know who have great personal power and are effective leaders. Many are likely not the highest-ranking people in your organizations. Here’s Dola’s story:
Dola’s Story of Personal Power
One great example of personal power is Dola Currie. Dola, a 75-year-old member of an Ohio church parish approached the church leadership team to ask that we begin a neighborhood soup kitchen. She made a strong emotional appeal, although the leadership team was quite skeptical. They voiced that their affluent suburb did not have anyone who was hungry.
Dola returned three months in a row with the same request, each time presenting more facts, dialing back the emotional appeal, and challenging the leadership team to collaborate with each other and local churches – to lead by example. The church leaders reluctantly agreed to give it a try, but feared no one would show up.
By the fourth Saturday, more than 250 people lined up waiting for the doors to open. It was a transformational moment for the parish – all because of the personal power of a 75-year-old woman who was not even in a leadership position. Because she was willing to gather information and flex her approach using her personal power, she helped the leadership team to hear her.
Dola’s story makes a key point: personal power often more potent and longer-lasting than position power is. And if we can flex our leadership style – adapt to those around us – our personal power becomes even more effective. The better we become at knowing which leadership style is called for, the more effective we will be at influencing others with personal power.