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Having your team follow you willingly requires more of you than simply being a charismatic personality or having all the necessary knowledge and experience to technically do the job.  The leader who wishes to be followed in pursuit of the vision does not say to the team “are you for me?” Instead, they demonstrate that they are worthy to be followed by showing that they are for the team.

A team will follow you willingly when they feel safe, when they feel trusted and believed in, when they know that you are committed to doing your best for them in pursuit of the vision; and when they know that you will give them room. They will follow you willingly when they know that you are fair, even when you are also firm, when your heart towards them is freedom and release within reason, not control and manipulation through fear of it all going wrong.  As you invest your belief in them they are far more likely to invest their belief and trust in you.  They will return your faith in them with faith in you.

An empowered team is harnessed to the purpose and released to be the best they can be in fulfilment of that purpose. They know that you have the authority but they also know that the power is shared. Good in theory but difficult in practice, because in stressful times people play for the power not the fulfilment of the purpose. So hidden below the surface of good team leadership and productive team relationships is the thorny issue of how power is expressed within the team. The issues of power and control are primary issues which cause a team to succeed or to fail and your role as the manager or team leader is pivotal in how power is understood, used and shared.

There is big a difference between the personal power of the individual which everyone has, and the positional power of management which the organisation gives to a few. Recognising this difference and managing it well can prevent power conflicts in team life. How you handle your personal power in the position of power you hold determines whether others will follow you willingly or obey you reluctantly. How you handle your power and the authority you have in the organisation also has an impact on how team members use the power they have - either to benefit the purpose of the team, or for personal gain and self interest. You set the standard which others will reach for and the culture which everyone will grow within.

When you handle your personal power ungraciously or unkindly, or bully others with it, power-play relationships inevitably develop as others try to retain a semblance of self respect and self control by saying ’no’ more than ‘yes’, or becoming passively aggressive, or undermining others as a means of making themselves feel powerful. When this happens in a team setting, its clear that the players have lost sight of the ball as they protect themselves from being fouled by other members from the same team!. The point isn’t to win the power, or protect oneself from other people’s overuse of power, but to use power effectively to fulfil the aims of the team.

The role of the manager or leader is crucial in this respect. The manager exists to empower the team to get the job done. The manager has authority - which is the permission to say where power is used.  The manager has authority in order to empower others. When the team is not empowered, and when they feel that their personal power is taken from them or simply not enhanced, then possession or repossession of power becomes the point, as everyone tries to grab the power they feel denied. When the manager or other members of the team attempt to enforce their objectives through manipulation and domination regardless of the resources available, power struggles begin to occur. Employees feel under pressure to produce results without also feeling honoured or respected or adequately resourced.  

Failure and the fear of failure, isolation and the fear of rejection, lack of clarity on team values, unclear assignments and boredom with the job, inner conflicts and tasks which are either too easy or too difficult, and a lack of resources to do the job - these are just some of the factors which can rob you and your team of the power it needs to fulfil tasks with confidence and conviction.  These are just some of the issues which can begin to cause you and your team to feel out of control. Its when you begin to feel out of control that the temptation to misuse power rears its head as an inappropriate attempt to regain control. The team culture is then defined by the very power which has been misused as people are tempted to overpower,  disempower, control, dominate, undermine, gossip, and hold back information, praise, or resources for others to do their job effectively. It’s a recipe for further stress - as if work wasn’t stressful enough!

When team members feel controlled or unsupported, they begin to look out for themselves and their own reputation, or to secure their place in the team or to look for a way out of the team!  Staff look to secure as much power as they can in order to feel  safe and in control.  But the point isn’t to win back or retain power, but to use power productively in fulfilling the teams purpose. The role of the manager is clearly crucial in this respect. The truth is that the manager exists to empower the team to get the job done and the job gets done when the team are empowered to do their job!  

The inappropriate use of our personal power - or the failure to use our personal power effectively leads to in-fighting within the team or being afraid of the team where the team forms a clique with you on the outside. When power is viewed and handled as a means of manipulation and control rather than empowerment and release, we end up in a mess of broken relationships, mixed motives, misunderstandings and missed opportunities.

Of course, there are times when the power of authority means that discipline and sanctions need to be applied, but the greatest use of power is to use it with gentle firmness, serving others into being the best expression of who they are capable of becoming.  It is the firm yet gentle use of power which creates the climate in which others feel safe to express the best of themselves. When we do this, the team looks good and so do we by association - we are the team leader after all!  We use our power to leverage their power in fulfilment of the bigger purpose or vision.

When you know how to empower yourself, and when you know how to empower your team, and you do it - then your team becomes a powerhouse of focused action, harmonious relationships, productivity and purpose fulfilment.  When we remember that we all have personal power, regardless of whether we have a position of power or not, we can maintain our self respect and use our personal power to get the job done and also harness the use of our power to put the values of the team and the business into practice.  

When we set appropriate boundaries for our own self respect and also determine not to use our power to devalue others in the team, we find our voice and release the voice of others. When we release our power sustainably and effectively, when we recognise if people are being served and empowered, or dominated and dis-empowered, built up or torn down, released or controlled and when we determine to release our power in a creative non destructive manner - then we have chosen to live to a higher standard - we have chosen to set the culture which - actually - everyone wants to live within!