Power and Leadership: The Intangible Illusion of Control
Roger L. Ritchie
MPA-665 Public Administration leadership
Professor Chris Jensen
September 2, 2012
To best understand leadership and power, it is helpful to understand the difference between the two terms, as they are not necessarily interchangeable—at least not from a trait-process point of view. For example, Peter Northouse (2010) listed such personal traits as height, intelligence, extraversion, and fluency as being characteristic of natural-born leaders (Leadership Theory and Practice/Fifth Edition). However, inherited power, such as that which is passed from one generational leader to the next, is largely non-contingent on a leader’s personal attributes; instead, focusing clearly on the retention of power itself. A prime, modern-day example would be Kim Jong-un assuming his father’s position in North Korea’s alleged democracy (generally providing a single candidate on voter ballots) in which citizens may vote against a candidate, but yet have but a single choice—which must be done publicly, and would result in the voter being identified and labeled as a traitor. Therefore, in some cases, power supersedes leadership. In other words, while all good leaders may have power, all who have power may not be good leaders. Northouse (2010) takes a closer look at this concept, comparing assigned versus emergent leadership. Tipping the scales toward the more widely researched topic of power, Northouse refers to French and Raven’s 1959 work which explored the basis of social power. Emergent from their efforts was the concept of five unique bases of power: referent, expert, legitimate, reward, and coercive (Leadership, Theory and Practice). However, some have challenged popular concepts, stating that power itself is but an illusion. At any rate, there can be no leadership without a follower counterpart. According to Northouse (2010), “The concept of power is related to leadership because it is part of the influence process…people have power when they have the ability to affect others” (Leadership, Theory and Practice, pp07). So what is power, exactly, and how is it obtained, maintained, or lost? Let us explore.
Power and Leadership… 1
While all good leaders may have power, all who have power may not be good leaders. Again, leadership is contingent on having followers—without followers, there can be no viable leadership. In addition, power, as it relates to leadership is quite subjective to which definition of the term leadership is being considered. Northouse (2010) presents two distinctive versions of leadership— or at least two specific definitions: the trait definition and the process definition. The trait definition attributes certain personal characteristics as being synonymous to all leaders regardless of venue or genre, and having ageless application without much wiggle-room to consider vertically- challenged exceptions such as Napoleon Bonaparte, James Madison, and Adolf Hitler. Other assumptions, such as those proposed by Mann (1959), and Lord, DeVader, and Alliger (1986), allege that leaders must (or should) be masculine—which, in my opinion, is an equally ridiculous notion (i.e. Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton).
Perhaps such physical traits such as height and masculinity were considered regarding a follower’s conception of what a leader should be—physically, and otherwise—and while there may be no leader without followers, be mindful that followers do not always have an inherent luxury of choice. Hence, we must disassociate, at least to some degree, leadership from power. As Northouse suggests, leadership may be either assigned or emergent, as certain leaders are assigned their roles rather than emerging from the ranks of...
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