A couple of years ago, I was working with a client on a leadership development program at which we were shown a satellite image of the earth with all these tiny lights.
The company’s VP of Corporate Sustainability, asked the group what they noticed in the picture. Almost all of us saw that western countries had the highest concentration of lights. The lights represented energy consumption, and revealed how developed countries use so much more energy than developing countries.
The conclusion? “We’re power hogs” the VP told us.
I reflected on that discussion recently and wondered what it would be like if we could produce an image of individual organizations, where lights would represent the people in the organization who had power. The brighter the light, the more power consolidated by a single leader.
An image like that would reveal the individual leaders who are true power hogs – those who show up each day, single-mindedly focused on getting and retaining all the power they can get their hands on.
A real life example is actually depicted in a new book, Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, by New York Times technology writer Nick Bilton. The book is a deeply intimate and fascinating look at the ubiquitous online company.
Bilton portrays Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter as a scheming power hog. Someone who was an out-of-control egomaniac who portrayed himself as the sole creator of Twitter, despite the fact that it was launched as a partnership involving four people.
In the book, we hear how Dorsey anointed himself “the next Steve Jobs.” And how, after several operational and financial debacles while he was CEO, Dorsey was demoted, only to launch a vindictive campaign to discredit his rivals and regain his role as the face of Twitter.
Twitter may be a relatively new company, but Dorsey’s story (if you accept Bilton’s analysis) is certainly not. Power hogs can be found everywhere in the business world. They are people who hurt the people they work with in the relentless pursuit of their own power.
Are you a power hog or do you know one? Power hogs can be found in several different forms:
- The Funnel: You demand every single decision must be run through you, no exceptions. You might be a master micro-manager, a leader who fears delegating authority to anyone lest it weaken his or her own position. No one feels they can ever have personal impact, so they check out.
- The Hoarder: You are a leader who lives and dies by the addage, “information is power.” So you typically withhold information from others. You keep your colleagues in the dark, and as a result they waste energy trying to get information from others.
- The Illusionist: These clever power hogs disseminate misinformation in the form of information. They distort facts and share half-truths. Because everyone else ends up acting on bad data, their power is weakened.
- The Blocker: You believe that any good idea that does not have your personal stamp on it does not deserve any attention or recognition. So you stop the good ideas that others come up with from ever reaching the light of day. Or you take other people’s ideas, and make them your own.
Truly great leaders have an ability to share power. Although they may be the person who makes the final decisions, it doesn’t mean they ignore the input and expertise of those around them. They consult, accept advice and listen. Their power is built on respect, rather than fear and misinformation.
This week’s Gut Check question is pretty straightforward: are you a power hog and how is it limiting you from becoming a great leader?
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro