Bernard Bass in his Handbook of Leadership defines social power as “the force less power underlying social exchanges in which the dependent person in the exchange relationship has and the person with more power is able to obtain compliance with his or her wishes” (p. 263). This is more of a definition of control than power and is certainly a misrepresentation of mature leadership. Bass emphasizes this popular idea of power by quoting Gardner (1986), “To say a leader is preoccupied with power is like saying that a tennis player is preoccupied with making shots his opponent cannot return” (p. 5). As one of the developers of transformational leadership theory, it is curious that Bass emphasizes this limited perspective. Arthur Ashe, the humanitarian, educator, model for transformational leadership, and actual tennis professional articulates leadership a little differently: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost” (Stein, 2005). True power to implement sustainable change emerges from internal clarity and a congruent external vision of transformation. Paradoxically, this involves letting go of control. This case study and analysis of leadership power will explore that perspective.

In a case study by Gary Yukl (2006), a newly transferred manager recognizes that customer service needs improvement. His transactional (or coercive) tools include performance reviews and some influence (but not complete control) over hiring and firing. Positional power is related to a leader’s rank and systemic ability to impose punishment and reward. In this scenario, the manager could threaten his employees and force them to do customer service tasks in a way that he demands. This is a bit like a parent spanking a child for speaking in an angry tone. They will learn to suppress anger (and other emotion) to avoid physical abuse, and will probably not learn anything about speaking their truth appropriately. This manager may wield his authority but the result will not be an increase in actual “customer service” but, at best, a temporary and transactional change in behavior that reacts to customer problems. This may, in fact, be good enough for a manager. A leader, however, must handle it differently. Addis (2008) writes, “Managing is about control, stewardship, planning, organizing, resource allocation and problem solving. Leading is the process of influencing others to achieve mutually agreed upon goals for the good of the organization” (p. 230). Personal power, at its best, resembles this definition of leadership as it includes the development of credibility through an emotional connection. The manager/leader in this case study may be able to influence healthy and sustainable change by taking the time to be clear about his actual motivations, acknowledging the limits of his knowledge, and making a genuine connection with the employees. Goffee and Jones (2000) contend that “when leaders reveal their weaknesses, they show us who they are…such admissions work because people need to see leaders own up to some flaw before they participate willingly in an endeavor” (p. 8). A leader who is new on the scene might consider creating connection before wielding reward and punishment.

Perhaps the most difficult change management initiative is in transforming addictive behavior to healthy behavior. Anyone who has attempted to help an alcoholic transcend rigid thinking understands this hopeless task. This dynamic exists in organizational leadership as well. Anne Shaef (1988) in The Addictive Organization writes, “Whole areas of knowledge and information have been defined into nonexistence because the system cannot know, understand, control, or measure them.” Addiction can be seen as repeated dysfunctional behavior that includes repeated attempts to gain “power” over the negative consequences. In the addiction treatment world, it is understood that the addict does not, and cannot have “power” over the addiction. It is in accepting the lack of power that transformation can begin: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1976, p. 59). The recovery process involves considerable personal reflection, an acceptance of being led by the will of a “power greater than ourselves”, and subsequently to develop the “power to carry that out” (p. 59). This sort of spiritual transformation can only occur after an emotional bottom, or extreme discomfort. The idea that a high-powered executive would admit to “powerlessness” seems impossible until we review the current corporate landscape and the limited but increasing research on authentic leadership.

Researchers such as Goleman (1995) and Goffee and Jones (2000) have identified that top performers who have the basic emotional competencies rise to the tops of organizations. Current leadership training is in need of complete revision to build the type of leader that understands the kind of power that comes from authenticity. Reynolds (2009) writes, “Trying to develop leaders through some kind of competency model that ignores the people, the context and the purpose, is like trying to produce a wonderful meal with no one to cook it, no kitchen and no one to eat it. Developing authentic leaders is more about enabling people to play to their strengths in a particular context than it is about remedying their deficiencies as defined by some competency model” (p. 55). Reynolds posits that authentic leadership is the next “big thing” in leadership citing a generation of workers with very different values, the recent collapse of large corporations, the challenges of continuing globalization, and addressing climate change (p. 55).

Corruption is the norm for most leaders because some degree of emotional competence is required to transform unconscious material. Even current literature on transformational leadership, possibly the most progressive accepted leadership model, emphasizes morality which always begets corruption. Whenever behavior is changed to match up with some outer moralistic ideal, a more authentic expression goes into what Carl Jung (1951) referred to as shadow: “The shadow…is composed of the dark elements of the personality, having an emotional and primitive nature which resists moral control” (p. 112). Great leaders do not identify an outer ideal and conform to it, instead they follow an inner drive (developed by deep personal reflection) that leads to outer transformation. When that inner drive is oppressed, its expression will be negative and hurtful – or corrupt. The solution lies in leadership trainings that initiate leaders into their own depth so they don’t drive themselves, their followers, and families off emotional and financial cliffs. Even the most intellectually hardened executive usually finds out (often very late in life) that “happiness and fulfillment isn’t to be found solely in work and achievement” (Reynolds, 2009, p. 54).

The beginnings of a trend of change may be imminent due to the worldwide financial bottom. But even if the world begins drinking the unconsciousness waters again, it may be in the hands of psychology professionals to provide opportunities for intensive treatment at the highest levels of potential influence – organizational leadership.


Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous (3rd ed.). New York: AA World Services.

Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Reynolds, L.. (2009, August). Authentic leadership. Training Journal,52-55.

Personal power is typically derived from one’s own expertise and leadership related traits, while positional power has to do with one’s status conferred by a position (Bass, 2008).

Goffee, R., & Jones, G., (2000). Why should anyone be led by you. Harvard Business Review.

Addis, S. (2008). Leading vs. managing. Rough Notes, 151(9), 230-233.

Goffee, R., & Jones, G., (2000). Why should anyone be led by you. Harvard Business Review.

Jung, C. G. (1951). The shadow. In Aion, Collected works 9, II. New York: Pantheon

Schaef, A., & Fassel, D. 1988. The addictive organization. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Stein, R. (2005). Arthur Ashe: a biography. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.