This chapter examines the relationship between the related yet distinct constructs of power and leadership. Although power (asymmetric control over valued resources) is often a foundation of leadership (influencing and motivating a group of individuals towards a common goal), we consider power to be neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the emergence of leadership. We distinguish power from leadership along a number of dimensions and highlight that the relationship of power to leadership lies in power's psychological effects. A number of the psychological properties of power — action, optimism, abstract thinking — can be seen as part and parcel of effective leadership. Other psychological consequences of power — diminished perspective-taking, risk-taking, overconfidence, and the tendency to objectify others by perceiving them through a lens of self-interest — are often associated with malfeasance and are the antithesis of leadership. Our model of power and leadership contends that an effective leader is one who is able to harness the positive psychological effects of power while mitigating the negative ones. Thus, the best leaders are action-oriented, optimistic perspective takers who see the big picture.We discuss how the springboard of power combined with perspective taking can be a particularly constructive force that allows for the emergence of effective leadership.

The world has long been populated by powerful people striving to satisfy their personal predilections, but leaders are an altogether rarer species. Despite their intimate relationship, power and leadership are not synonymous: the mere possession of power does not qualify one as a leader and one can lead others without possessing power. The aim of this chapter is threefold. First, we define and distinguish between the constructs of power and leadership. We then summarize research documenting the psychological effects, both positive and negative, of power on cognition and behavior. Finally, we develop a model proposing that effective leadership requires harnessing the positive psychological consequences of power while mitigating its insidious and destructive psychological effects.

Adam Galinsky, J. Jordan, and N. Sivanathan
Publication Date
Leadership at the Crossroads

Full Citation

Galinsky, Adam, J. Jordan, and N. Sivanathan
. “Harnessing Power to Capture Leadership.” In
Leadership at the Crossroads
, edited by
Joanne B. Ciulla, Donelson R. Forsyth, and Michael A. Genovese
New York
Praeger Press
, 2008.