Leaders who think they have the individual power to change a system not only fool themselves while most likely trying to do so by capturing and keeping power for themselves. This is referred to as selfish or personal power. By trying to capture more personal power to make the difference they seek, they in fact will fail over time. Capturing and keeping selfish power cannot achieve sustainable leadership. Selfish power results in staff alienation, mistrust, withholding valuable resources, protecting turf, favoritism and selected communications.
A leader does seek power, but it is not personal power they seek, but power that truly makes the difference. This is referred to as social power and today we know it as empowerment. Unfortunately, the term empowerment is an often overused and misused concept; but it does accurately mean that a leader will distribute any power attained back to the people in the organization. Social power is built on trust which every successful leader and organization must have as a value and practice. Social power is sharing information, aligning resources, building a positive culture, delegating responsibility, developing skills within others, accountability and establishing multiple means of effective communications. Sustainable leadership is inclusive therefore the practice of empowerment is spread throughout all levels within an organization.
Empowering others results in a workforce better prepared to move forward and be successful. It is this workforce community that defines leadership rather than by the individual in that position. Sustainable leadership is never about the individual while individuals in authoritative positions may not be sustainable leaders if they view themselves as the greatest source of power in the organization. Sustainable leaders are those that realize the need for and practice empowerment.