Power Does Not Equal Leadership

I received an email this weekend from my assistant, Robert Greenlaw, that I’d like to share with you:

I’ve been mulling over this since Friday and decided to write. I watched a couple hours of inaugural ceremonies with my kids on Friday. It was fun to see and talk about the historic monuments and try to explain what was happening. But I noticed a certain phrase used by commentators more than once. They spoke about the “peaceful transfer of power” from one president to another.

They were probably trying to emphasize the “peaceful transfer” part, but it’s the word “power” that caught my attention since it was used multiple times, along with other terms such as “control” and “rule.” What’s sad is that I never heard references to the transfer of “leadership, responsibility, duty” or other terms that describe a president’s role.

This lies in stark contrast to how we describe leadership roles at Kimray. When your dad retired and the board selected you as CEO, we talked about a “transfer of leadership.” No one referred to that transition in terms of “power, control, or rule.” Sure, the CEO’s role comes with certain “power” (although I’ve never thought of it in those terms), but you and the executive team consistently focus on leadership, responsibility, duty, sacrifice, example, and other virtues.

It’s refreshing to be in a community where we emphasize the noble side of leadership. Thanks for making this part of The Kimray Way.

First, I think it is significant that Robert is exposing his kids to our electoral process at a young age and taking the time to experience it with them and help them understand what is happening. We all would like to be people of influence, but we often forget that our influence is inversely proportional to our relational distance. That’s a fancy way to say, “You have to be close to a person to have influence.” That relational closeness is developed with quantity of time and shared experiences.

Second, I agree about the absence of “leadership” in the language of today’s public forum, particularly in the 2016 election cycle. The underlying issue is one of competition versus coherence.

Competition pits us against each other. One of us wins while the other loses. This is fine for ideas, processes, and systems. The best idea can win over lesser ideas. The best process should rise to the top. The most robust and reliable system will prevail.

This is not okay for people. If some of us lose, we all lose eventually. Personhood is not the same as ideas or even ideologies. We can disagree about ideas and still respect one another as persons. Winning an ideological conflict by reducing the value of another person is not winning.

Coherence is an overall sense or understanding stemming from a logical interconnection. The primary interconnection at play here is that we are all humans, made in the image of God, and our value is not based in what we think or how we act. We can agree or disagree on anything and still maintain the value of our humanity.

That is hard work. That is messy work. That is why so many people choose to devalue others rather than lead them. This is what we saw in the events surrounding the election and inauguration.

Power, control, and rule are competitive terms, and they carry a sense of “besting” another person. Leadership, responsibility, and duty are coherent terms that carry the burden of valuing people above ideological wins.

So how do we as leaders demonstrate the second set of traits and avoid abusing the first set? It starts with our own belief that our worth is not set by what we personally accomplish or “win.” If I must compete with someone else to establish my value, then I will strive for power and control. If I understand that I have inherent value as a human—and the result of that value should be the nature of my relationships with others—then I can work with others to achieve understanding and coherence even when we disagree.

This can be a great year for developing our relationship capacity and becoming more coherent at Kimray. Our people have no shortage of examples of poor leadership. Let’s make it our goal to provide examples of better leadership.

That’s The Kimray Way.