One of the few advantages of getting older is that you acquire a greater capacity to reflect, to look back and wonder how life is sculpting and shaping your thoughts and values. It seemed as we get older the years are not wasted as we continue to learn along the way and acquire insight, awareness and even wisdom.
In my personal and professional life, I found the journey of ‘power’ fascinating. What’s more fascinating is the conflict inherit in the power of your idea versus the idea of your power. As most people, I admit that I struggled with this concept and practice of power. Ultimately, power means having a perceived advantage over others, whether it’s economic, health, title, beauty, etc, and how it shapes one’s behaviour. On the surface, it seems like a ‘no brainer’ that the power of one’s idea should dominate one’s behaviour as opposed to the idea of power, or worse use other people’s power, like that of a boss or our moms & dads when were youngsters.
The reality of life’s demands, competing pressures and the ever-increasing pace of decision-making has tilted the playing field in favour of using one’s power in favour of taking the time to think through and explain the power of one’s idea. This comes at a huge cost to morale and engagement.
Of course, we are easily able to see the application of power especially when we are the object of its misuse. However, it is less clear when we are the one holding the gavel. When you are in a position of power the challenge is how do you use it? And, how do you know how not to abuse this advantage? These may seem like easy questions but, when the chips are down and timelines are tight, the temptation, conscious or not, to use power over the power of one’s idea is very real and often appears effective. Especially in the short term and therein lies the challenge.
Over the years, I learned that any time I used power (the power of my position or any advantage I may have had economic or otherwise) to get something done, although seemed effective in the short term, I almost always regretted it, in the long term. I paid for it by losing valuable professional support, loyalty and at times losing a valuable friendship. A huge price to pay for anything.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of using the idea of your power rather than using the power of your ideas. The difference is that when you use the idea of your power, fear is what drives the movement, whereas when the power of the idea is used, hope is what drives the movement – leading in hope versus leading by fear. In business and organizational language, this translates to managing through values versus managing through a “title”. Using the big boss’s name to get things done is, more than anything, is to discount one’s ability to advance one’s ideas with a loss of credibility – “just do it, the boss wants it”. It’s a trap that often generates discontent. Ultimately, disengagement is a sure outcome.
Unfortunately, this happens at all levels. I have seen very senior and seasoned people use the power of the Minister, President or Deputy Minister to get something done, rather than simply explain their idea, why it’s required, what’s behind the request, explain its value and how it supports the mission. I was never amused!
When you use power or worse, use the “big Boss” to get something done-get it done, the boss wants it!-rather than respect your colleague’s intelligence & explain it, you may inadvertently signal that the idea has little content, lacks clarity and may result in a lack of sensitivity, respect and yes a lack of leadership. Of course, there is a limit and a need for the positive application of organizational hierarchy (proper authorities, legal & otherwise) which maintains focus on the mission and, avoid distractions & optimize efforts to achieve goals. This requires strong leadership, demands experience & excellence from all.
Organizations and even families and friends need to be compliant with common shared values and ethics to maintain sustainable engagement, balance and harmony while moving forward – this is what I call the positive application of power.
The one meaningful piece of advice that has helped me when I’m in doubt, is to go back to these universal values – honesty, integrity, quality, humanity and respect. These values will shed light on how to navigate life’s journey and will help with the incredible amount of decisions that need to be made on a daily basis. These values will center and steady your feet in a world full of turbulence and surprises. You’ll be the rock that people seek, you’ll be original and above all you’ll be You and that’s all you need to be 🙏🏼