Leadership Tip 16: Decide When to Choose Power-With or Power-Over

All decisions are a form of power. We exercise our personal power (power within) in many ways: when we decide where to live, what to wear, and what to eat. Not only that, we also choose our jobs, who we vote for, and where to go on vacation.

We have a ton of personal power.

Healthy teams often need to decide together. They use power-with, where people decide what to do as collaborators. When people effectively use power-with, they build relationships to decide together. They share the power.

However, there's another form of power, called power-over. Power-over is about control.

When managers decide for other people, the managers exert a form of power-over. You might need power-over if only you can see a fire, and you yell, “Fire! Leave the building now!” However, that's not the power-over I see too often in organizations.

Instead, I see a manager deciding how other people or a team should work. Or what the team board should be. Or even the “standard” agile approach everyone should use. When managers do that, they remove autonomy from people and teams.

When managers use power-over, they deny the team's autonomy and mastery. Managers are more likely to micromanage with power-over. (See Leadership Tip #9: See & Stop Micromanagement—Learn to Trust Instead.)

If we think about our decisions, we can decide when to choose which kind of power—power-with or power-over.

Your culture determines how much power-over and power-with your managers use for decisions. Agile cultures require much more power-with management actions. That's why it's so hard to transform.

This tip is mostly from Practical Ways to Manage Yourself, with a little from Practical Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization.

This is a part of the series of leadership tips.

3 thoughts on “Leadership Tip 16: Decide When to Choose Power-With or Power-Over”

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