Leadership, diversity, the future of work depend on letting power flow

The competitive advantage goes to the leaders and teams that understand the potential unleashed when power is shared
July 28, 2023

I recently head the incredible Sukhinder Singh Cassidy on one of my favorite podcasts - and it reminded me of the the amazing opportunity that I had a couple of years ago when I had the chance to co-write this piece with her.

This article was first published in the Financial Post on April 20, 2018.

"Power has traditionally been treated like a finite resource — cautiously rationed out, to a select few. Leaders were encouraged to carefully control their teams, curtailing autonomy, authenticity and access.

A definitive body of data now shows us that the competitive advantage actually goes to the leaders and teams that understand the potential unleashed when power is shared out. The benefits will multiply and return.

Changing the cultural frame on power is essential, particularly in an economic landscape experiencing multi-layer, rapid disruptions from technological developments to rapidly shifting talent and customer demographics. Here’s why.

Letting more power flow is the way to become a more effective and impactful leader.

A leader who is growth focused should always be looking to replace themselves so that they can shift to the bigger goal or next stage

A leader who is growth focused should always be looking to replace themselves so that they can shift to the bigger goal or next stage. But this only happens when those around are empowered to create the space to allow senior leaders to themselves expand or upgrade.

It’s an “either you manage me or I manage you” philosophy, which believes that if as a leader you are managing the time and tasks of your team, then you’re not at your best or using your potential, and neither are they.

The second and even more urgent reason to shift how organizations understand power is that until they do, they will fail to be as innovative, profitable or impactful as they could — at time when global competition absolutely requires it.

Organizations that want to go faster and further, need to optimize diversity in all its forms. The data on this front is definitive; diversity is correlated with positive company results across all measured economic indicators.

But to effectively harness the benefits of diversity, the organizational structure and culture has to foster a let-power-flow framework. This means deliberately addressing the systemic flaws and network biases that currently prevent better gender and racial equity in the C-suites.

Bringing new people to the table and having them let power flow beyond themselves is the foundation of theBoardlist. Industry disruptors, founders and leaders know to do this, because power given away comes back multi-fold.

But as well, they recognize that companies are being buffeted by digital disruption, new-gen customers and female consumers and that by letting power flow they are more likely to engage the most innovative, effective ways to move forward in this increasingly competitive landscape.

The third point is less incentive and more harsh reality. The paradigm on power is being shifted by larger cultural and technological forces, and so, continuing to block the flow of power is not just ineffective but also has the potential to be the downfall of an industry.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements spotlight the toxic cultures created when diversity is lacking and power is controlled by a few. Talent, employees, investors, shareholders and partners also demand that corporate leaders and organizations show how they are changing their power structures to mitigate against these charges in the future.

Shifting the power paradigm to one that more effectively lets power flow more starts with asking, “Are you getting the most from the team that you have?” and then “Who else can you bring to the table?”

They are the two simple questions that, if acted on regularly, can bring about a much-needed new paradigm on power in the Canadian business landscape: one built on the understanding that the most effective, innovative and high-impact leaders and entitites will be those where an open power flow is both encouraged and fostered."

• Sukhinder Singh Cassidy is the founder of theBoardlist, a premium talent marketplace aimed at connecting highly endorsed women leaders with board opportunities in the tech industry.

• Reva Seth is the founder of The Optimal Living Lab and Senior Fellow at The Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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