Hard and Soft Leadership Power

Hard and Soft Leadership Power was noted by Joseph S. Nye of Harvard University. As with all human behavior, some leaders are stronger in one than the other. Balancing hard and soft leadership power requires self-awareness in the leader, situational awareness and attention to the needs of others and of the organization.

Nye identified two main hard power resources--coercion and inducement. The tools of those hard power resources include hiring, firing, bullying, buying and bargaining. Research has shown that a calculated loss of temper can be useful at times as it shakes people out of complacency and provides an adrenaline rush.

Two other skills are closely related to hard power—organizational capacity and political skill.

  • Organizational capacity refers to the ability to manage the structures and reward systems of the organization to shape and to implement a strategy. For example, aligning hiring, firing, and compensation with the organizational strategy is critical to achieving the strategy. Especially important is effectively managing the flow of information relating to both the inputs and outputs of decisions taken to achieve the strategy
  • Political skill is crucial and complex. Politics can take a variety of forms. Intimidation, manipulation, and negotiation are related to hard power, but politics also includes inspiration, brokerage of new beneficial arrangements, and developing networks of trust typical of soft power. Politics can involve success in achieving goals not just for oneself and a narrow group of followers, but also building political capital for bargaining with wider circles of followers.

Soft Leadership

In hard and soft leadership power, the two key soft power resources include the inherent personal qualities of the leader and communication. The personal leadership qualities consist mainly of charismatic attraction and emotional inspiration. The communication qualities include persuasion and non-verbal communication.

Three skills are particularly important for the soft power part of the equation—vision, emotional intelligence and communication.

  • Vision is the ability to articulate an inspiring picture of the future. A vision has to be attractive to various circles of followers and stakeholders, and also sustainable within the organization. One can judge the quality of a vision in terms of whether it creates a sensible balance between realism and risk, and whether it balances objectives and values with capabilities.
  • Emotional intelligence is the self-mastery, discipline, and empathic capacity that allows leader to channel their personal passions and attract others. Emotional intelligence must be authentic to be lasting. Because humans focus their attention on the leader, leaders must successfully manage personal impressions through emotional discipline. The success of financial results may depend on the leader exuding the most effective emotion—optimism, tenacity, determination. Mirror neurons in the human brain cause people to imitate the mood of the leader, therefore success may dictate that the leader create the proper emotion because that emotion will cascade throughout the organization.
  • The leader has to have the capacity to communicate effectively both by words, symbols, and personal example. If a leader lacks strong public speaking skill, then at least the inner circles of followers needs to be attracted and inspired. Leaders who lack great rhetorical skills can also communicate effectively by example, symbols, actions and organization. A good story is a great source of soft power.

The ability to chose the correct balance of hard and soft leadership power is sometimes referred to as pragmatic leadership. The pragmatic leader consciously choses the most effective method in the given situation.