Power or Influence – Which is More Important in Leaders?

Posted on July 9, 2015 in Leadership

leadershipUmm, don’t you need both to be an effective leader?

Not if you want healthy, well-run organizations and a free, democratic society.

Before you think, “this guy is out of his mind,” I’ll explain with an example from physics, the study of matter, motion, energy, and force.

Power and influence can be compared to physical objects that carry positive or negative electric charges. For sake of this discussion, think of leaders who have power—the ability and/or force to make things happen—as positively charged, and leaders who have influence—the ability to change other people’s thoughts, beliefs, or actions—as negatively charged.

The people who are led—the rank and file organization members, the citizenry as a whole—are neutral, in the sense that powerful and influential people exist among them in equal numbers.

When a positively charged object comes near another positively charged object, they repel each other. Same with two negatively charged objects.

When powerful people come together, like in business, government, or sports, there is a battle of wills—my power against yours.

When influential people come together, like in academia, arts, and media—even in the church—there is a conflict of ideas. My worldview against yours. They naturally repel each other.

When two neutral objects come near each other, nothing happens. No repulsion or attraction. An outside force of some kind is required to hold them together.

Have you ever volunteered to work on a team where no one was in charge? The people on the team whose bent is power or influence behave accordingly, and either nothing gets done or things fall apart.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. When a positively charged object approaches a neutral object, the positively charged atoms in the neutral object are pushed away, and negatively charged atoms are attracted to the positively charged object. Same thing happens between negative charged and neutral objects. Physicists call this polarization.

Ever heard that word used to describe interpersonal dynamics in business or politics?

Powerful people attract influential employees and citizens who they believe can advance their agenda. Influential people attract powerful employees and citizens who believe they have winning ideas that will help them consolidate their power. The battles of worldviews and wills tend to neutralize each other until one side capitulates.

The science of Washington gridlock.

Here’s the final piece. Positive and negative charged objects attract each other.

Human opposites attract. In relationships, organizations, society.

A powerful leader attracts influential leaders, and vice-versa.

When one leader attempts to be both powerful and influential, the “physics” don’t work. So the only way the leader can pull it off is…

You guessed it. Despotism. Tyranny.

The Bible says, “Through everything God made, [people] can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.” The physical laws of the universe teach us something about human relationships.

Relationships are the foundation of justice.

Think about this as we move into another election cycle. We need a team of leaders guiding this country who know which kind of leader they are—powerful or influential—and are willing to yield to other leaders’ strengths, are full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds, show no favoritism, and are always sincere in their leadership.

There’s that wisdom from above again.