Barbara Kellerman observes that “there’s something odd about the idea that somehow leadership can be distinguished from coercion, as if leadership and power were unrelated.” I take issue with her actual statement, but not with its implication. Despite the position some may take, that coercion can sometimes be necessary, (as with a college football coach wanting a win at all costs) I maintain that coercion is neither the desired, nor optimum use of power in leader-follower relationships.
Coercion necessarily implies the imposing of one’s will upon another, whereas empowerment in leadership inspires, motivates, persuades, convinces and encourages others — on their own joyful, willing, reasonable and reasoned volition — to engage in the leader, and the leader-follower community’s, purposeful vision and mission. Kellerman is correct, though, in implying that power and leadership are not unrelated.
Kellerman explores how bad leadership happens, in an article by that very name. She explores the abuse of power with results ranging from ineffective leadership to unethical leadership. Both Kellerman and Foster warn about an insularity which either begins bad leadership or ends with it. Insularity manifests itself in a variety of ways: parochialism, uncaring of others, paranoia, suspicion, and then malfeasance. The uncaring posture can sometimes extend beyond the people within the organization to others outside the organization; but it makes full circle back to a lack of care for the organization’s very values, purposes and concerns such leaders claim to share! Having become insular, they become callous, then corrupt, then evil.
A most bothersome aspect of power misuse in organizations is the enabling (itself a corrupt form of empowerment) given to the unethical leader by “at least some followers.” It is said that some organizations actually want bad leaders! Evidently, some nations, some political processes, and unfortunately, some church organizations, possess this bizarre desire.
The worst misuse of power in an organization is manifested in a (toxic and unethical) leader’s ability to convince followers that their bad leadership is precisely what they and their organization needs! On the other hand, the most effective use of power in an organization is when a leader invites, engages, or inspires followers to take action which ignites and utilizes the followers’ initiative, autonomy, creativity and passions, all guided by the clear vision and purpose the leader communicates to the followers.
For more on this topic, see Friday, Michael P. And Lead Us Not Into Dysfunction. Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock, 2018, p.83-89.
 Kellerman, Bad Leadership. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press, 2004, p.4.
 Kellerman, “How Bad Leadership Happens.” Leader to Leader 35 (2005) 41-46.
 Ibid., 44.
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Michael Friday is an organizational leadership specialist, working through Transition Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA. He is author of And Lead Us Not Into Dysfunction.