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Key Idea: Ask Who Is In Charge

Professor Keith Grint explains that power can't be seized, it can only be granted because we only have as much influence on others as they permit us to have.       More...

Key Question:


The fact that you own your business, that you are the boss, does not make you a leader. You are only a leader if people are inspired to follow you. Successful small business owners know that they cannot succeed without valuable employees; the intellectual capital of the organization is among its most precious assets.

You can have authority over your employees without being a leader but you will not have true power in your organization. Power can’t be seized, it can only be granted. That’s why Dr. Grint says power is a consequence, not a cause, of our employee's actions.

Think about it

Do your employees look upon you as a leader? How do you know?

Clip from: Leadership with Keith Grint

Truly exchanging ideas is a starting point for leadership.

The World: Meet Prof. Dr. Keith Grint.  In this episode, he explains why we are so frustrated with the leadership who dominate the headlines. He makes it clear that it is time to turn away from the selfish people and look to each other to find the heart of real leadership. 

Dr. Grint says that having a vision is certainly a starting point but that the "vision thing" has been overrated. Anybody can have a dream or a picture of how they want their world or their company to look but very few are good at putting the plans in place then taking action on those plans to turn the vision into reality.

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Said Business School, Oxford

Keith Grint, Professor of Public Leadership

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Ask Who Is In Charge

HATTIE: Hi, I'm Hattie Bryant. What is it about leadership that is so difficult to describe and define? There are dozens of books about it and hundreds of gurus who speak about it and you would think that by now, everyone would know what it is.

Every business owner who has been on our program is a leader. But when it comes to explaining why they are so effective, it's difficult. In our work to produce video companions for some 30 college and graduate school textbooks, we've had the pleasure of reading and talking with many authors.

Today you'll meet Dr. Keith Grint, who will help us understand this large word leadership. We now know how to recognize it. In 30 minutes you'll know too. As Dr. Grint talks with us about power, charisma, communication and motivation, we'll take you to meet effective small business owners who are truly leaders.

(Voiceover) Our guest has published seven books and over 40 articles on topics ranging from business process, reengineering to appraisal schemes, organizational theory and sociology of work. His current research focuses on leadership. We went to the Saïd Business School, Templeton College, Oxford to meet Dr. Keith Grint, its Director of Research.

DR. KEITH GRINT: (Voiceover) There's an argument that leadership can either be about positions or it can be a process, which is a different kind of way of understanding this. There is some degree of control generated by your position, but I think it's also worth considering whether in fact leadership is to do with a process rather than a position. That is to say that you might want to argue that anybody who persuades somebody else to do something, they wouldn't have otherwise done, is taking a leadership role.

HATTIE: What is power?

DR. GRINT: Power is not so much a possession but a relationship. It's not so much a cause, but a consequence. When your boss says jump, what tends to happen is you think about it and you think about whether you should jump or not. They can't make you do these things. There's almost no instance where somebody can coerce you into doing something. You might want to argue that if somebody points a gun to your head and says if you don't do this I'm gonna kill you, you don't have any choice. But you still have a choice. You can say go pull the trigger. So you still have a choice about doing this.

So, in this instance what subordinates do appears a need to be very influential in establishing whether the leader has power or not. So to put that another way around, if a leader says jump and the subordinates jump, then leaders have power. Not before it, but after the event. So power becomes a consequence rather than a cause of subordinate action. That's a -- that's a complete reversal of our normal assumptions about power.

And that explains why I think negotiations are so important for leaders, because by and large they have to negotiate their way through organizational control. You can't simply say, 'I'm the boss you must do it.' You can say, 'I'm the boss, if you do it I'll pay you.' Or, 'If we do this together we might achieve something.' If you were to push me into say which is the most important skill of leadership, I would suggest probably negotiation. It sits very high up on those skills.

HATTIE: Is the biggest flaw you see in most leaders arrogance?

DR. GRINT: Yes, I think it's an issue that arrogant people tend to assume that they in some sense are an extreme version of everybody else. So what motivates them motivates other people, but they're just better at it. So, if you're motivated by money that means everybody else must be motivated by money. So I think we tend to assume that whatever intrigues us intrigues other people. So if you extrapolate that and put it down to a leadership role, what motivates other people, it motivates me.

And of course that isn't the case because many leaders are quite different from their employers or their subordinates. So almost by definition in this instance, leaders need to think beyond themselves and to do that they need to engage in conversations with their subordinates.

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