The only way to have the influence you want as a leader is to create psychological safety.
If any leader feels they need to resort to power over others by use of their position or privilege, they will quickly find the loss of the kind of power that truly has impact. When leaders fail to do the hard work of relationship-based servant leadership, they easily revert to their power-differential to accomplish their will over others. As John Stott writes, ”The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.”
The greater the power-differential the harder we need to work to influence with love.
Leaders often underestimate the effects of the power differentials at play in their relationships. Age, gender, race, education, position, experience, relationships, and so much more, contribute to the likely unrecognized effect leaders can have. All of those privileges are only safe when leaders are self-aware and humble. It takes a leader with remarkable self-regulation and skill to create an environment of psychological safety within the reality of any power-differential. If a relationship system doesn't have psychological safety then innovation, creativity, and healthy challenge can’t happen.
How do you use power? Who in your life have you asked to reflect your use of power to you? Do you have a regular system to engage those around you in a 360 review of the way that you use power? Have you made it a priority for your board or your supervisor to regularly and consistently give feedback on your leadership?
Very few leaders initiate their own review if it’s not already built into the systems of their organization. Accountability and evaluation for leaders may seem like just going through the motions of what a leader "should do" every once and awhile. But one doesn’t need to look far in the news to see yet another Christian leader who has failed in their mandate to love and lead people well while they went unchecked for years.
The courage it takes to become curious and aware of how we lead is much less costly than the damage we can do when we have power without humility. If you would like to explore this topic further and initiate a systematic feedback loop of your leadership, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.