Power struggles can cripple an organisation’s development. Turf wars and silos stop progress. There are three critical leadership skills you need to handle this tough stuff.

A fundamental leadership principle: Know the patterns, manage the people.

It’s a common tug of war: executives who are capable and accomplished in their area of expertise challenge the Board members about the direction of the organisation. The Board has accountability, the Executives have experience. Both have the best interest of the organisation at heart, but something gets in the way. Is it ego? Is it personalities? More often it is neither of these.

In a recent webinar series, I shared some of the dynamics that derail even the best Executive Teams. It’s a common pattern of drivers that unleashes the less-than-ideal version of ourselves, namely the Four Devils, as explained in detail in People Stuff.

The chief dynamic at play is fear of loss. These include fear of losing power and autonomy, fear of losing position, status, and fairness, fear of losing our place amongst our peers and a sense of belonging, and fear of losing performance and not meeting expectations. These fears trigger survival responses, and power struggles ensue.

Here are the leadership skills you need to tackle challenges:

Leadership Skill #1 Curiosity

It’s easy to jump to conclusions and label others as problematic, egotistical, arrogant and any number of disparaging descriptors. When we get curious about why people are acting the way they are we get beyond the usual default of assuming it’s “personality problems”.

Curiosity is part of a nimble leadership mindset

Leadership Skill #2 Humility

It feels good to be right. It reinforces our sense of self and affirms our beliefs. But what if we’re wrong? That does not feel as good. Here’s a paradox that many luminaries from Aristotle to Shakespeare to Voltaire acknowledge: the smart person knows that they are not that smart. There is always more to learn, more to see, and more to understand. When it comes to power struggles in leadership, being humble is very disarming. Struggle needs resistance; humility acts as a bending reed in the river of discontent and the frustrations flow over us. 

Leadership Skill #3 Care

When we operate from a place of genuine caring, we lower the shield of our own personal agenda. When others know we have their best interest, as well as the best interest of the organisation at heart, they are open to more collaborative conversations.

With humility, curiosity, and care we create a calmer negotiating field. It’s in those calmer greener fields where we can map out accountabilities and responsibilities. We can explore different fears related to loss and build better processes to address these concerns

Our colleagues are not the enemy! If we can lower our emotional response and lead with greater wisdom and compassion we can forge new paths, together.


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  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.