Control your leadership power
Excessive use of power does indeed make a statement, but often one that simply reflects insecurity, not deep confidence.
It’s tempting in a fast-paced and powerful world to operate as “if some is good, then more must be better”. However, this mindset can rebound negatively.
In the field of safety, for example, it is telling and not a coincidence that “overwork” is the number one injury “all-time winner and still champion”, according to the most recent – and all previous – Liberty Mutual’s Workplace Disabling Injury Safety Index. Overwork is the abuse of strength and power. These usually lead to strains (muscles and tendons) and sprains (ligaments). In other words, those parts of the body that hold your joints together and help you move. Overexertion can occur by trying too hard, putting too much muscle into a task, and then dragging workers overboard into soft tissue injuries.
However, overwork is not limited to physical security. It is also the mark of less than effective leadership. Often trying too hard, using too much force to the extent that it backfires. I bet you’ve seen it happen: leaders talk too much and listen too little. They often try to embed ideas or procedures into what they think are the “thick skulls” of others. Attempt to exhaust workers’ resistance through disdainful repetition. This often stems from busy leaders not understanding the effort required for tasks or staff being understaffed.
But doggedly pushing the same old approaches to change or safety doesn’t seem to move the needle. Ditto for repeating the same formation and the same messages in the same soothing way. Overwhelm workers with even more policies and procedures that they are supposed to memorize. Incomplete or off-target organizational communications can distract workers and fuel rumors. Calling people out, in the worst case, in front of their peers assuming embarrassing people will change them.
Much of this “strongman” approach comes from the assumption that power is demonstrated by a leader’s outward strength, defiance, inflexibility, strength, or rigidity. It’s behind the old school belief that leaders are born, not bred, that the physically taller the leader, the “stronger” they are. But numerous organizational studies systematically dispute this. In fact, empathy and connected communication, both traditionally considered “soft”, are in fact hallmark attributes of effective leadership.
This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health and Safety.