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Letter: In leadership, not all power considered same

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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of The Republic.

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

I harken back to my days in business school when we learned there are two sources of power — authority and referent.

Referent power is the power derived from respect of peers, colleagues, even opponents for displaying a variety of virtues — not just command of the issues, but an ability to work together, to support good decision-making processes, to be respectful and even-keeled at all times, and to stay focused on the greater good. It is the basis of strong leadership that creates positive energy in organizations and helps teams galvanize around a common objective to accomplish more than they thought possible.

Power derived from authority is simply that of station. It does not convey the same command of issues nor positive relationships. It is a haven requiring limited interaction, no compromise nor joint decisions. It is the rudder stick for command and control management. It does not demand one keep an eye on the ultimate prize of moving the enterprise forward, nor how it is done. It does not inspire, nor create energy, nor build followership. It is much less likely to achieve desired results.

Being elected is an honor.

It is the starting point. It is not affirmation of every single thought and position a candidate might have. It is a statement that of the candidates available, one was selected. Most importantly, it provides the opportunity to lead through referent or authoritative power. Today in Columbus there is far too much reliance and conversation on who has authority and who wishes to extend and consolidate it. External legal opinions are commanded to reinforce this perspective.

I have been told that Columbus is a town of boards and commissions. Now I understand the wisdom of this. Our infrastructure, our assets, indeed our community jewels are to be insulated by the long-term view these boards bring.

These physical assets, like our city employees and volunteers, are key resources that should outlive any elected administration and provide for the quality of life that makes Columbus a great place to live, work and raise a family. These boards and commissions bring multiple points of view, and from this are forged better long-term solutions. It is an intentional balance of power. Our parks, our city are testament to this wisdom.

The costs of power derived solely from authority are many. In the short term, good people leave.

To Ben Wagner, I say thank you for your service and enthusiasm and love of our city. I say the same to David Hayward, Mary Ferdon, Kelly Benjamin, Jason Maddix, Chris Price, Sarah Cannon, Susan Fye, Jim Hartsook, Sean O’Leary and many others who were either volunteer board members or key employees of our city. All gone from municipal service. To this regrettably we now add Brian Russell, Nancy Ann Brown and Mary Tucker. I fear the list will grow. I suspect there is a single common denominator.

Today we enjoy the fruits of earlier collaborations to build our city, to revitalize our downtown, to build our tax base. Downtown is the poster child that reminds us the excellence of Columbus finds its roots in how we work together, not command and control.

The short-term cost of chasing off current board members and employees is a visible cost. The long-term cost is less visible and threatens the very quality of life and progress we elected our officials to preserve — as smart and caring volunteers disengage, and potential businesses and residents view recent events and say “no” to Columbus.

Not all problems and not all opportunities are a nail.

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