The measure of a man is what he does with power.
This statement was made by Pittacus of Mytiline, Greek Statesman and sage.
What feelings do you have when you think about power?
- Do you hold the view as Lord Acton did when he insightfully observed that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?
- Do you think that to have power is bad?
- Do you feel comfortable with power or scared by it?
In my post – Insults Don’t Motivate – I illustrated, whether consciously or unconsciously, how many of us use insults to motivate. These insults were not just simply calling someone names but included instances where we didn’t appreciate someone’s efforts, constantly criticized them, micromanaged, manipulated and ultimately expected them to think like us.
Stephen R. Covey says that we should never in the slightest, violate the unique agency of an individual despite the position we may have over them. Whatever power that can be gained through manipulation and control will eventually fail.
In the Power Principle, author Blaine Lee shares that we can choose to be powerless or powerful. Whenever we choose powerlessness, we are basically saying that there is absolutely nothing we can do. Powerless choices can lead to lose/win relationships, irresponsibility, stagnation, immobility and despair. He encourages though that regardless of how we feel, there is a way out.
Dr. Lee identifies three paths to power and as I describe them, think about ways in which the different paths have shown up in your own life.
The first is coercive power which is what last week’s column was really about. People who exercise this power are usually in positions of authority. They intimidate or bully people; hurt, embarrass or humiliate others; impose sanctions against them, fire them or take something away from them. If they are afraid that this powerful person can do something they don’t like, others might comply just to avoid the problem. With fear as a source of this person’s power, others might go along to get along.
The second is utility power. This person might be influential with others because of what they can do FOR them. This person has the capacity to do something that other people want. For example, they might offer one of the following: “I will pay you if you’ll do what I want. I have something to exchange for your time and efforts. I can give you information. I can give you opportunity. I can give you resources. I can give you power. I’ve got something you want, you’ve got something I want. Let’s make a deal.” This person has power because they can provide things that other people want, in order to get what they want in return. This is different from the first kind of power. There is no threat or force involved.
The third is principle centred power. This category suggests that the person you believe is powerful is someone others believe in, someone they honor, someone they respect. They comply with this person’s wishes because they want what she wants. Whether she is there or checking up on them or paying them does not matter. She believes in them and they believe in her. As a consequence, people willingly and wholeheartedly give themselves to what she asks of them. This person has power WITH others, not OVER them.
Now think about a specific situation, a person or group of people that you influenced. In relation to the person, people or project:
- Why did they follow you?
- Why did they listen to you?
- Why were you influential with them?
- Which of the three types of power was most characteristic of you in the situation recalled?
- Is it possible that there was some combination of all three?
There seems to be a continuum of power from feeling that we can do anything, to compromising, to demanding, to feeling that there is nothing we can do.
So you may have tried being kind and when that fell short you bargained and if bargaining failed, you resorted to threats or you simply gave up! Sounds familiar?
Of course it does. If you’re a parent – you know it well!
When we use coercive power, we are able to control others’ behavior but only as long as we force them. Remove the threat and they no longer need to follow our wishes. And think about forcing others to act over the long term. All it does is promote helplessness. Those we force may be unable to act on their own and look to us for constant direction. Even though they may seem to be complying, underlying resentment towards us may lead to them sabotaging and/or trying to undermine us.
Utility power works and it’s the one most commonly used. We bargain. If I do this, you can do that. The downside is that it disappears when you no longer have what I want.
Principle centred power is the only lasting power. Think of someone who has had this type of power in your own life? Someone who has had a positive, significant influence on you? What is it that this person did? How did they make you feel about yourself? How do you feel about this person today?
In my own life I can think of such a person. Mrs Massiah – one of my primary school teachers. She SAW me and my potential from early. She was strict but always encouraging. With her lead I always wanted to do my best. She drew my talents out of me with a smile, a compliment, a reminder that she knew that I was capable of much more. And I responded positively. That was in the 70s. She is still influencing me today.
How you deal with other people will, to a great extent, determine the quality and happiness of your life. You are a source of influence. How will you handle that privilege?
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