Power poisons the weak
This is the next series of posts from hand-picked guest bloggers about power; they have also written about trust . The idea for this series was kicked off by me rewatching Game of Thrones and thinking about its twin themes of power and trust.
The first to write about power for this series is Cullen Habel, who I know personally, but first met via Twitter. If you haven’t read it, his first post about trust was a fabulous, enlightening read. I have great respect for Cullen because he is a straight shooter and tells it like it is, and this brilliant post is no exception (being a straight shooter myself, I know what a burden this can be!). Cullen has worked in academia, sales, hospitality, retail and a long time ago in a radio workshop. He has a habit of trying to look beyond the obvious. You can connect with him via Twitter or his blog.
On the face of it, we all might imagine that power and trust are somehow linked.
It’s certainly where I was headed when I first started thinking that trust to me means I don’t think you’re a deep down asshole and we got an insight of it when @naturalgrump posted that trust is about power – I give the electricity salesman the power over a half hour of my time in the expectation that he will give me the economic savings he promised. No wonder I feel a sense of betrayal when lured into a mind numbing, unproductive meeting so that somebody can tick a KPI or a “consulted” box.
I started mentally writing this post three weeks ago and it’s taken some unravelling. My dear wife operates a leadership consultancy and is a practitioner in choice theory, and I feel like I’ve spent my entire working life in a trust/power spin cycle. The themes of power and decency are never far from the practice of our lives.
Power, to me, is the ability to have an effect on other people’s lives. It might be as small as putting too much sugar in your boss’s coffee, or taking everything that’s important away from a person.
Power may occur in a good way, such as building another person’s self-esteem or in a bad way, such as provoking a sense of dread when you enter the room.
Having an effect on other people – isn’t that a fundamental driver of human behaviour? Even if the effect is only that the other people leave you alone or don’t trash you. My experience is that everybody sees it that way.
In fact the abuse of power often becomes a bit of a “dad joke” when I play the caricature of a power poisoned boss. Recently, as we walked up to the locked car I barked: “Come on Mia… get in the car… don’t waste my time!”.
Mia: “Dad, the car’s locked.”
Me: “I don’t want to hear your excuses.”
So, there are a few topics on my mind here:
1. Internal strength and power poisoning
I’m not sure it’s as simple as George Orwell’s “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” but I think it’s a part of it. I once saw a lovely young kid go crazy when I told him that as the oldest he was in charge. Bizarre. I’ve seen people of strength become almost embarrassed when given the responsibility of authority. The best of those are the ones who move past the embarrassment, and do the leadership stuff out of a sense of duty, not superiority.
2. Refusing to become toxic is not weakness
I have also seen weak people hold the stronger in contempt: “He hasn’t got the stomach for it”. I knew a manager in retail who was dictated to terminate an employee that senior management didn’t like. It ended up with this store manager losing his job. He thought that it was better him than a person who didn’t deserve it. Plenty more crappy jobs for bad companies out there, he mused.
3. Dark power is not strength
It is not a measure of your strength that people clam up when you enter the room. If you believe that, then your lens is cracked.
4. The armour of goodwill
If you wield this dark power, then people seem to take any opportunity to take a shot at you. This forces you to continually defend. Compare that to the mountain of goodwill that – say – the Vinomofo guys command.
For over 40 years I have watched dark power and bright power at work. It seems there’s a choice between the armour of goodwill and the illusion of strength.
I hope I have chosen the right path, and can walk it.
Did this post resonate with you?
If you liked this post, then you’ll love my collection of essays about work.
Part memoir, part analysis of workplace culture, I consider the world of work and the definition of career success. And anyone who has found themselves disillusioned about the progress of their career—and that’s a lot of us!—will relate to this book.
Grab your copy of Collection 4: Working is Out from the Amazon Kindle Store for .99c.
(If you want even more value for money, you can now get all 6 books from the Love & Other Brave Acts series for $4.99. Just saying.)