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Effective leadership requires a mixture of soft and hard power skills

It is difficult to think of a leader without soft power. But that alone is not enough to get things done. Effective leadership requires a mixture of soft and hard powe rskills. 

If one thinks of power as including both the hard power of coercion and the soft power of attraction, leadership and power are inextricably intertwined. 

Leadership involves power, though not all power relationships are instances of leadership. Bombing an enemy into submission is quite different from persuading others to follow. At the same time, it is difficult to think of a leader without soft power. However, some contemporary theories that define leadership as synonymous with the soft power of attraction and persuasion miss the hard dimension of power. 

In practice, effective leadership requires a mixture of soft and hard power skills. The proportions differ with contexts. A business executive has more access to the hard power of hiring and firing; a university president or a democratic politician has to rely more on the soft power of attraction and persuasion. 

Leadership is a social relationship with three key components-leaders, followers and the contexts in which they interact. One cannot lead without power. 


Power is ubiquitous in human relations. We use the word every day, and seldom enter a room or join a group without sensing its power relations. Nonetheless, power is hard to measure. The dictionary tells us that power is the ability to affect the behaviour of others to get the outcomes one wants. 

One can do that in three main ways. You can coerce them with threats; you can induce them with payments; or you can attract or co-opt them. Some people think of power narrowly in terms of command and coercion. They imagine it consists solely of commanding others to do what they would otherwise not do. 

This appears to be a simple test of power, but it is not so straightforward . When we view power in terms of the changed behaviour of others, we have first to know their preferences. What would have happened without the command? A cruel dictator can lock up or execute a dissident, but that may not prove his power if the dissenter was really seeking martyrdom. And the power may evaporate when the context (including your objectives) changes. 

A tough boss who controls your behaviour at work cannot tell you how to raise your daughter (although others outside your family, such as a doctor, can do so). The domain of your boss' power in this case is limited to work. Power always depends on the context of the relationship.


Police power, financial power and the ability to hire and fire are examples of tangible 'hard' power that can be used to get others to change their position. Hard power rests on inducements (' carrots' ) and threats (' sticks' ). But sometimes one can get the outcomes one wants by setting the agenda and attracting others without threat or payment. 

This is soft power-getting the outcomes by attracting others rather than manipulating their material incentives. It co-opts people rather coerce them. Soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others to want what you want. At the personal level, we all know the power of attraction and seduction. 

Power in a relationship or a marriage does not necessarily reside with the larger partner. Smart executives know that leadership is not just a matter of issuing commands, but also involves leading by example and attracting others to do what you want. It is difficult to run a large organization by commands alone unless you can get others to buy in to your values. 

Soft power is not the same as influence, though it is one source of influence. After all, influence can also rest on the hard power of threats or payments. The word influence is used in various ways. Some treat it as synonymous with behavioural power, which is consistent with the dictionary definition . 

Nor is soft power just persuasion or the ability to move people by argument, though that is an important part of it. It is also the ability to entice and attract. Attraction often leads to acquiescence. 


Why do people follow at all? In ordinary circumstances they have functional needs for meaning, group identity and cohesion, order and the ability to get work accomplished . Leaders fill these needs by a combination of fear, payment and attraction-hard and soft power. 

In some circumstances, people have extraordinary personality needs and develop a culture of permissiveness that transfers enormous power to a leader. In times of social crisis, such as war or economic depression, temporarily overwhelmed followers may hand over power to leaders that they later find difficult to retrieve. 

Hitler came to power by elections in Germany in 1933, and then used coercion to consolidate his power. But he also used the soft power of attraction, constructing narratives that turned Jews into scapegoats, glorified the past and promised a thousand-year Reich as a vision of the future. Some discussions of leadership treat followers as obedient sheep. 

Followers can be defined by their position as subordinates or by their behaviour of going along with leaders' wishes. But subordinates do not always go along fully with leaders' wishes. Leadership, like power, is a relationship, and followers also have power both to resist and to lead. Followers empower leaders as well as vice versa. Even in large organizations, where subordinates have few positional power resources, they may be able to exercise leadership. 


Hard and soft power are related because they are both approaches to achieving one's purpose by affecting the behaviour of others. Sometimes people are attracted to others with command power by myths of invincibility. In some extreme cases, known as 'the Stockholm Syndrome' , fearful hostages become attracted to their captors.

 Osama bin Laden put it in one of his videos, "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse" . Among the great industrial titans, Andrew Carnegie and Thomas J Watson of IBM led primarily by intimidation while George Eastman of Kodak and Robert Noyce of Intel led through inspiration. 

Sometimes intimidators have a vision, belief in their cause and a reputation for success that attracts others despite their bullying behavior-witness the examples of
 Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart and Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy. 

While some studies say bullying is detrimental to organizational performance , Stanford psychologist Roderick Kramer argues that bullies who have a vision and disdain social constraints are 'great intimidators' who often succeed. Almost every leader needs a certain degree of soft power. But soft power alone isn't enough.

Except for some religious leaders such as
 Dalai Lama, who combines personal and positional power, soft power is rarely sufficient. And a leader who only courts popularity may be reluctant to exercise hard power when he or she should. Alternatively, leaders who throw their weight around without regard to the effects on their soft power may find others placing obstacles in the way of their hard power. 

Psychologists have found that too much assertiveness by a leader worsens relationships, just as too little limits achievement. Soft power is not good per se, and it is not always better than hard power.

Nobody likes to feel manipulated , even by soft power. Soft power can be used for competitive purposes , and we often talk about 'war of words' -one person's attraction pitted against another's .


1 comment:

  1. Nice blog post:)I got a clear about soft power and the difference between the hard and soft power of the leader. Thank You for sharing this valuable information:)


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