Leadership & Power

Contrary to popular opinion I do not think power corrupts. Rather, I think power shows you the true nature of most people, most leaders.

Power allows leaders the opportunity to exercise their inmost mores and ethos with little to no constraint. The more power, the more of the real person you see in a leader.

This is a frightening way to look at power but perhaps a more honest way. Leaders, like all people, have contraints placed upon them and these constraints are myriad – the public eye, the board of directors, fellow employees, partners, policies and procedures, market dynamics. the legal system, culture, etc.

All of these things serve to restrain leaders (and others) to operate within a certain, dependable framework.

The more power one builds however the more flexible these systems, walls and constraints become. This is fine for a leader such as Mahatma Ganghi or Martin Luther King Jr. They tend to use their power toward what we would define broadly as “the greater good” although even King had relational boundary issues that became evident with the authority that arose.

Put that power into the hands of a young artist named Adolph Hitler or a young  communist idealist named Josef Stalin and millions upon millions die.

Power does not corrupt – power unleashes what is within.

A wise leader recognizes their inner darkness and seeks boundaries in the form of close advisors and structures or policies that constrain them in certain ways leading to greater accountability.

As I have written before such constraints or boundaries do not limit but rather they unleash a creative spirit that would not otherwise rise up in an unfettered environment.

Leadership: The Low Hanging Fruit

There is a temptation when taking over an organization for leaders to attack the biggest, most formiddable problems immediately facing them.

One of the problems with this approach, however practical it may seem, is that an inordinate amount of time and resources can be poured into such initiatives preventing a leader from having time to get the lay of the land and strategize an appropriate response.

Enormous problems should not be reactively, instinctively responded to. They need to be well understood before efforts are made to tackle them. More often then not when a leader becomes focused on the one or two huge issues before them  a hundred small, easy to deal with annoyances are ignored and allowed to fester and corrode.

After a great deal of time the large problem may be dealt with but the leader becomes overwhelmed when she/he turns around only to see countless other enormous issues that started out small but grew in silence, unobserved and ignored.

NEVER ignore the little things, if you do, you do so at your’s and your organization’s peril.

Clear away the tangled brush of these small, easy to manage issues while they are still easy to manage BEFORE you take a chainsaw to the huge rotting tree they surround.

Or, if you want another analogy, gather the low-hanging fruit before you grab the 10 meter ladder and try for the fruit at the top of the tree. Trust me – you and your organization will be better for it.

A Wise King: a parable

A King (or Queen) has ascended to the throne only to find the affairs of the kingdom neglected and the court in utter chaos.

When asked why, no one could say for sure what happened or how it happened. The Lords pointed fingers at the previous ruler and advisors who had moved on etc. but ultimately the circumstance remained bleak.

What’s a wise King to do?

As is often the case the King leaned over to his Fool and asked for his take.

“My Lord,” he says. “You are wiser than I but have heard tell a story that may help.

Once there was a King who commissioned a new Navy. Leaders were chosen to head up work teams and find the best shipwrights in the land and the finest materials. On the day of launch all 100 new vessels were commissioned and pressed into service under great pomp and ceremony. Within 100 yards of the docks each ship, to a one, sank into the sea.

Well of course this was a huge embarassment as you can imagine and the furious King had his advisors brought in to be questioned. All of them, to a one, had wondrous and profound reasons for why the ships sank. The materials were blamed. The purchasers were incompetant. The shipwrights were lazy…on and on it went until it was clear no satisfactory answer was ever to be found.”

“What did this King do?” the King inquired of the Fool.

“I know not my Lord, but I can say this – it would have been madness for a King to do the same thing again, with the same people, and expect different results.”

The King pondered this for a while before calling his advisors in and relieving them all, to a one, of their duties.

Afterward when the throne room was empty the King leaned toward his Fool and said simply – “find me advisors who know nothing of the past and only look forward.”

“Indeed,” the Fool said, “my Lord is most wise” and with these words he left.