#32 – What Power is For

The purpose of power – at its highest and most noble application – is to make other people powerful.

At a material level, solar power is a great example of how this works. The panels on our home convert the sun’s rays into energy that is brought back inside in the form of electricity. We use a lot, sometimes most of what is produced on a sunny day but not all of it.

What we don’t use gets sent back into the larger system to be utilized for other purposes. We use what we need and give back what we don’t. And what we give away makes other things powerful.

At the human level, many people believe that power is to be accumulated and reserved for their own consumption, making it inaccessible and unusable by anyone else. They have not done the work to figure out how much they actually need so they operate in fear that any loss of power is a complete loss of power.

The irony of this miscalculation is that it is the reverse that is true. When power is distributed to others, through an increase in responsibilities, the opportunity to develop and practice new skills, to have greater influence, the power of the individual who helped to make that happen grows even greater skill.

The generous distribution of power converts to loyalty, commitment and engagement. Give it away and watch it grow.

This is #32 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Ready for another?

alternative energy building clouds energy

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Quiet Power

When the power went off unexpectedly today, the washer and dryer stopped, the dishwasher cut short its cycle and the lights clicked off. The TV and its attachments were disabled, and there would be no charging of phones or computers for over four hours. Dinner plans were made, “Plan A” if the oven was functional, “Plan B” if not. And under no circumstances was the refrigerator or freezer to be opened.

It was a brief, not unpleasant, but wholly conspicuous reminder of our dependency on effective sources of power. When power is present and available to us, it is an invisible force that allows us to go about the day secure in our focus on matters of creativity and connection rather than on contingency plans for keeping food cold.

Human power, when capably and humbly applied is a source of reassurance and possibility. As you have no doubt experienced, when it is applied with arrogant insecurity, everything that worked seamlessly before comes to an abrupt and disruptive halt.

windmills on seashore under white clouds

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Smooth Power

“In general, you can lead people (only) as far as you have gone.
Transformed people transform people.”
adapted from Richard Rohr

During the World Series game on Friday night a commentator said that a pitcher was forcing his power instead of relying on his mechanics to produce smooth power.

This reminded me of the difference between the leader who relies on hierarchical authority and the one who relies on experiential authority.

The hierarchical leader tends to be less secure with himself and projects that insecurity onto others in the form of unnecessary controls and unrealistic demands. He operates at a distance, afraid to know or be known because doing so requires vulnerability.

The experiential leader feels secure in himself because he has already confronted his insecurities. He has experienced the transformation of the facade of power into the smooth power that emerges from the mechanics of humility. He operates close in, curious to learn about the human condition, and how that knowledge can lead to individual, team and organizational success.

Smooth power looks effortless because the hardest work has already been done.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.