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Leadership: Leaders, Followers, Environments by Art Padilla

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Power and leading

A prince who wishes to maintain his power ought therefore to learn that he should not be always good…

—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Power and leading are inseparable. But they are not the same thing. Power can be defined in terms of control, dominance, or even oppression. Controlling, centralizing decisions, or suppressing dissent can lead to more power and, often, to more resentment from your associates as well. Organizationally speaking, power also refers to the capacity to get things done by mobilizing people and resources. It means, in this sense, capability or effectiveness, rather than domination or control.99 Having power or being viewed as powerful is associated with the ability to act flexibly and accomplish more. Powerful individuals within organizations tend to get cooperation more easily; their needs are met faster, their suggestions are translated into action; and they can get the necessary resources to work effectively in their own area.

At the same time, Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion indicates that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; for every power move there is a corresponding reaction that offsets, limits, or modifies that power. Classical literature is helpful in studying power: Machiavelli’s The Prince is a jewel from the Renaissance on the study of power, and Shakespeare eloquently presents the notion in his brilliant play Henry V. Even though Henry is a powerful and well-liked king, he has to resort to bribery, ...

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