So Many Execs, So Few Leaders

Survey after survey, article after article, they all identify a common critical issue for CEOs: Not having enough leadership talent, while on the other hand, these same organizations have armies of executive talent. It is a paradox many of us are all too familiar with.

This conflict, layered on an overly populist understanding of 'management is leadership', paints a picture of how these have become murky waters. And the Western colloquialism to refer to executives as leaders dilutes this further.


So What is the Difference Between Executives and Leaders?

Many individuals identify leadership by analyzing the traits associated with the role; others describe leadership as a practice that emerges through the interactions of people and processes. At the heart of the position of “leader,” however, I believe are individuals who master three powers: Content Power, Positional Power, and Personal Power.

  1. Content Power: The power an individual has over another because of knowledge on a particular subject or expertise area. This could be technical prowess, a talent with money, legal knowledge, industry expertise, etc. In short, this power can be stated as, “You know more about this than I do, therefore you have content power over me.”

  2. Positional Power: The power an individual has over another because of authority or title. The most obvious is example being “I’m your manager therefore you will do what I say.” This can also extend to other types of authority including parental, police, politicians, etc.

  3. Personal Power: The power that is hardest to express because it comes from deep within. It is the alignment of who you are in all aspects of your life; from your beliefs and values to your behaviors and actions. The best way to express this is how it is experienced by others: “I will follow you because I trust in you and I want to be part of whatever you do.”

At the risk of oversimplifying, I will suggest there are many executives who have high levels of Content Power and Positional Power, but relatively low levels of Personal Power. What sets a leader apart from an executive is not only their ability to create a motivating vision and execute it, but also their high levels of Personal Power.

Why is Personal Power Important?

Personal Power is harder to cultivate than Content Power or Positional Power. It takes longer, and the right answer is highly specific to the individual trying to develop it.

  1. Individuals are more likely to grow up as digital natives, communicating differently and causing an erosion of interpersonal abilities and EQ. Put simply, it is much easier to go through adolescence, college, and young adulthood without having had much interpersonal experience or practice. This all works fine until people have to interact with others or when difficult conversations become necessary.

  2. Expertise based on "Content Power" becomes obsolete at a faster pace as the speed of information and innovation accelerate. Skills that are cutting edge or knowledge that was once more difficult to obtain becomes antiquated or common much quicker.

  3. "Positional Power," which is based on authority and title, is increasingly associated with good management operations. It is also, however, contrary to creative, collaborative, and innovative cultures that we hope will fuel our economy in years to come.

How Can We Move Towards Leadership?

Leadership is less about exploiting and hoarding knowledge and skills, less about exerting power over others, and less about demanding respect. Instead, we should be moving towards cultivating our own Personal Power and sharing it with each other by harnessing the following ideas:

From "knowing your stuff" to "empowering others who might know more than you"

From "rigid hierarchy" to "first among equals"

From "having others respect what you do" to "having others trust who are you"

It's for the reasons above that we started ThinqShift—to craft leaders who inspire, innovate, and orchestrate extraordinary impact on the world.