“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
- Abraham Lincoln
by Judy Ryan
Iwas unsure whether to call this article Use of Power or Abuse of Power because we are witnessing both in spades right now. I decided to use the first title because the phrase reminds each of us that we all have choice regarding how we exercise our power individually and collectively. As a business leader, you are uniquely called upon to recognize and choose in every moment what part you will play as you model your use of power. This is especially important when the battle for peace, love and equity is at war with behaviors resulting from fear, inferiority complex and scarcity thinking. Use of power for good or ill has always been our societal dilemma, and now it requires a conscious, structured resolution, including at work.
Here’s a crucial question for you as business leaders: Will you influence the creation of a better world in your business -- one that’s characterized by win/win for all, even for those who have been conditioned to put themselves first and win at all costs? Will you make it a priority to guide even those who are hardened to the fate of others when they are pushed into lose positions? The answer to this question is a resounding YES! Just as parents play a major role in developing the character and behaviors of their children, so too do you either contribute to or diminish healthy use of power on the part of your people. And how you do so is crucial for every relevant reason, including your bottom line.
Will you help your employees consistently show respect, remain receptive, and give recognition to ALL, including those who are vastly different? Can you provide them with a psychologically safe (and emotionally and socially competent) environment where each person can openly disclose his or her thoughts and feelings, make honest requests and communicate expectations without fear? Can you ensure your people are inspired to speak up and tell the truth even when you or others may not initially understand? Will you offer them the consistent support they need to grow and maximize their human potential? Your use of power and choices about power are crucial.
As a business leader, you yourself must model an open heart while choosing powerful and intentional actions that are free from hateful, vindictive, or self-righteous intent. You do so -- all while communicating high expectations and standing for justice, even when your people engage in violations. At best, the latter situation can be part of the learning process. To some, pairing justice and open-heartedness sounds like an oxymoron. It is not; rather it is firm and respectful, and results in an environment where everyone’s needs are considered and people trust your authority, which comes from love. Your intention, especially during correction, must come from a healthy use of your power. How you operate, address challenges, and invest in developing your people matters so much.
Sometimes your use of power won’t look or feel sugar sweet or polite -- nor will it be mean or shaming. It may not always start with collaboration or compromise. Often you are defining what is (and isn’t) allowed, always accompanied with why. You assume your people will become caring and influential given adequate knowledge and support. Power used well becomes the living outcome of your legacy. You promote a safe, orderly and caring society, including at work. Malice is neither needed nor helpful in this endeavor. As you demonstrate your ownership and joy in your own power, doing so with loving intent, you assist those whom you lead in doing the same. If you need to understand specifically what this looks and sounds like, please let me help. Most people were not given the understanding or tools to use power in positive, purpose-based, and values-based ways. Our world needs you, a powerful leader, to embrace today’s trend to develop a healthy use of power in all.
Judy Ryan (judy@LifeworkSystems.com), human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!