Notes on Power and Leadership

These were ideas I was exploring in preparing a presentation on Power and Leadership for the Power Game, a Leadership Vancouver program

We give people formal power in our social organization. Our social organization may have evolved from well-intentioned people, but much of the way we have organized and the way we behave in our organization is used to advantage by self-interested people.

We exercise power in our behavior, in what we say and do and how we say and do things. We have power in the context of the role we play and we have power as individuals.

We exercise power over others, give power to others, or can give our power to others.

The power of force is the power of authority we give to positions or the power of authority taken by force. The power is exercised by individuals. The threat of the use of force is exercised by individuals.

The power of resources is the power of enterprises or individuals who hold or own resources. The promise of the use of those resources is exercised by individuals.

The power of the idea, the power of knowledge, and the power of our feelings, – what we really care about and how much we care, – is the source of real power. The use of this power is available to everyone and is exercised by individuals.

Our knowledge of power is the resource we have to counter the threat and the promise from those who hold authority and resources. The question is how we care to exercise our power, how able we are to exercise power, and how well we exercise power.

Leadership is a quality that can be exercised. Successful leadership lies in our understanding of power, the sources of power, how we give it, how we exercise it, how we respond to the power by others, and whether our exercise of power is rooted in self interest, or in social responsibility and with an interest in social contribution.

The success of enterprise, the successful pursuit of interests, and the success of leadership lie in the power of communication. What we say and do and how we say and do things is how we communicate. These are the choices we make. Leadership is about the choices we make and how well we perform.

We have a responsibility when we communicate. We have an opportunity when we communicate. We exercise and give power when we communicate.

Conversation is how we learn about and contribute to the interests of others and how we both change the way we see and do things in our common interests.

We each come from a unique cultural context. Our culture is something we have learned and become comfortable with or accepting of. We are more likely to respond with an acculturated point of view and could find ourselves responding the same way in different contexts.

Integrity, humanity and creative contribution, qualities we admire that engender trust, appreciation, and respect, the qualities of leadership and the sources of real power.

Our future lies in the pursuit of ideas that work. Ideas that work are more powerful than the threat or promise of force or material reward, or of ideas that provoke fear or need like many religious and political belief systems.

We can’t own an idea. We live our ideas every day. An art, which are ideas about a way of doing things, can not be owned. Leadership is an art. We can’t own these ideas. We can give them away and show how they work.

To create a civil society, a society that cares and creates to contribute to everyone’s interests, we need to give ideas that work in our common interests to others. We need to give others what we know and what works, the art of leadership. We need to do it in what we say and do and how we say and do things.

When we give others what we know, we give others power. This power engenders trust, appreciation and respect. These are the qualities of good relationships and successful enterprise. This is the power we give others and the power that contributes to our personal and common interests.

We exercise leadership by what we say and do and how we say and do things. We exercise power by what we say and do and how we do things. We give power by what we say and do and how we do things.

It is like acting. If we know the part we are playing and what our interests are, and we understand the given circumstances, it is simply a matter of how we choose to play our part and how well we perform. Except the story is created by the choices we make and how well we perform. Our performance lies in how well we send our ideas to those playing other parts and how much we demonstrate we care, and how well we connect with the other players and our audience.

This is the power of the leader. The audience comes to know but what is said and how things are said and in the body language, – the actions. Like the actor we need to prepare. The part we play isn’t about us. It is about the responsibility we take on for the interests of others, – and about the ideas we send, – and how honestly and how well we perform. There are two audiences. The other actors in the story and the power of position and ownership and public admiration they hold, – and the public, – those whose interests are affected by the outcome, the choices and decisions that are made, – and, in our world, the media, the reviewers, the critics, the editors of the content and the most powerful force in our lives, – those who draw the conclusions, shine the light on opportunities and choices, on information and ideas, on consideration, and who draw conclusions in the opinions they express and the information and ideas they choose to communicate.

A leader is the creator of the third alternative, the idea that contributes positively to all the interests involved and all the interests affected by the choices we make, and the opportunities we have to make choices. A leader is a performer in how well ideas and our choices are expressed and sent to others.

In many instances, as in this one, even the two alternatives in play aren’t clear, let alone the possibility of a third. And clarity and consideration of the choices, the context of given circumstances, and the interests involved is necessary to make a considered choice and to find the third alternative that does no harm, or the least amount of harm and contributes most positively to all of the interests involve or affected.

As community leaders, the responsibility we take on or accept as part of the part we play, our first consideration is the common interests of the community and the personal interests of those involved, including our own, become context for our exploration, our consideration, and our choice of the ideas we pursue and send to others.

Our power lies in communication and in creating conversation. It lies in what we say and do and how we say and do things. It lies in learning more about the interests, context, and behavior others through conversation, and in giving others the opportunity to explore their interests, context, and choices.

The power of our performance lies in the integrity of our performance. This is an integrity that allows us to change our point of view and our position as new information, ideas and opportunities present themselves. The power of our performance lies in our ability to demonstrate we care about the interests involved and affected, – to be connected to the interests of others, understand them, and accept them as context. The power of our performance lies in the creative contributions we make in finding choices that work in our common interests, work in the interests of those affected, and work in the interests of those involved.

Leadership is not about credit or recognition. This is not why we do things. We do things because we care. We do things because we want things to work better. We look for things that work. That means that others must become and behave like and demonstrate leadership, and be trusted, appreciated, and respected as leaders.

The power of honesty, – of integrity, – the power of caring, – of passion, – and the power of creative contribution and performance are the powers of leadership.

The power of force, – of position and authority given, assumed or taken, – the power of ownership of resources, – of being able to deny or provide reward for behavior, – and the power of celebrity, – the power of others who become well-known, – through the media or through marketing, – the power we give their brand, are the powers that create our context, – and could be the powers that could become contributors, – if they choose exercise leadership, – responsibility for the interests of others, – or exercise power, – for self interest or personal interests, or personal ideas and positions, for personal belief systems that define right and wrong and good and bad, and personal judgment.

Power is how we change behavior. Changing behavior to behavior that works better for everyone is the only way we will grow a civil society and create a sustainable life now and in the future.

Power is in the hands of people who hold the instruments of force, who own the resources that they can withhold or use to reward behaviour,

When people fight among themselves, there is collateral damage. A leader finds ways to resolve conflicts, – find alternatives that work better, – and demonstrate how leaders with other interests involved can get their interests served.

Leadership is about integrity, caring and contribution, not about position. Leadership is about performance, about doing. It is the only way we make a contribution. Leadership is about demonstrating. It is about what we say and do and how we say and do things.

Power and Leadership