The use and abuse of power at work – Introduction (1/21)

Human beings share many things with the other members of the animal kingdom. One of these is the drive to be industrious. It goes against our nature to be idle. We create huge empires whose purpose is to keep us engaged in activity. We may delude ourselves that they are to make money, to improve health, to enhance social standards, but in reality, they serve to keep us occupied.

Psychologists have shown, in numerous studies, that one of the fundamentals to a sense of human well-being is the need to be doing something. This need is often hijacked for other purposes – to pay the mortgage, to feed and clothe our family, to feel we have made a mark on the world, to justify our birth or education even, but the fundamental in there is that we have an instinctual need to be industrious.

A smaller group of people have a strong need to measure their success through this industriousness. They rise to the ‘top’ of ever larger organisations and draw strength from the financial results, the employee count, number of branches or offices, perceived impact of their empire and so on.

As they depend on others to want whatever they have to offer sufficiently strongly to pay for it, so they may seek to improve its quality or reduce the cost of manufacture and delivery. Quality and efficiency efforts provide more work for more people, and inspire an industry in themselves, though for some industrialists such matters are really quite irrelevant as their need is not reflected in the amassing of greater wealth but in the trappings of power that their position brings them.

Power is not, in itself, wrong. It is used to achieve much good in the world. It is the use and abuse of power that can cause problems. Those people of power need to understand how to apply it to best effect, how to respond to others seeking to use it over them, and how to work with others in a position of mutual power. Psychotherapists often refer to these three states as “power over”, “power less” and “power with”.

My own work revolves around helping people in positions of power understand themselves, other people, and situations, in such a way that they can work with these three states most effectively.

When we start to work together, we often have a discussion about the ways in which these people see themselves dealing with power. There are lots of ways in which you could try to classify power, but I find that one fairly comprehensive review by an American psychotherapist, James Hillman, is a good starting point. He identifies 20 different kinds of power. While I don’t find some of his language particularly accessible, and some of his terms are from a different period and culture, I base my own way of looking at the individual and their repertoire of power skills in a similar fashion. This blog, then, is number 1 of 21. The next twenty entries will look at the specific ways in which those of power, derive their power, apply their power, and perhaps abuse their power.

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.
For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Behind the scenes, helping those of power see themselves, other people and situations differently

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.