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Executive Power

Lessons we can all learn...

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2007 by RDFollendoreIII

January 17, 2007

A recent article posted on ABC News entitled "Boss Doesn't Listen, Because He's the Boss" reported on a simple and elegant psychological experiment which gives us insight on the 'perspective' of executive power. The purpose of this essay is not to repeat the details of that research but for anyone contemplating going into management or politics it is well worth reading. The essence of the article was that "...you don't really have to have a lot of power to be a power monger... Even the suggestion of power pushes people in that direction." If we have an inkling about our capabilities and tendencies this could be both an enlightening and possibly life changing knowledge that can allow each of us to analyze our past, present and future opportunities as executives and discover/predict our potential. If you have failed at management in past executive positions, are in a new position or even contemplating your future career, there is no time like the present to begin to understand the compromise that power places upon your natural self. To be a good follower it is just as important to know who and whom to follow. Simply understanding the perspective of power provides the capability to understand how some executives succeed in their obligations to their organizations while others miserably fail.

As otherwise good people gain more sense of authority, they instantly trade their empathic sense of perspective for a sense of responsibility. It is as though they expect that empathy must somehow be treated as a luxury rather than the responsibility that it actually is.   After all, what are we if we are not empathetic to others? There is no reason to believe that executive power changes the intelligence or capabilities of the individual. In fact, the capability for empathy that probably allowed the executive to rise to that position of power could well have been the individual's best and most important asset. Perhaps the reason has to do with self identity. People are willing give up their existing identity for their new, more important identity. The new identity offers the potential of change and improvements in both lifestyle but in return that same identity requires absolute expectations. The person who who holds positions of power are expected to be leaders, and real leaders are expected to know exactly what is to be done. The analogy of physical space, to follow or to be followed, is the most common concept of leadership. Regardless of the fact that this simplistic way of thinking in our modern universe is full of flaws, this is the way that the individuals within our society thinks about Executive power.

There are many kinds of power. Positional power is delegated. Such power may or may or may not require an individual who demands that others follow. In fact, it can often be the case that the reason why an individual is selected to hold the reins of power is precisely because they have shown empathy, respect for others, and can therefore better and more easily utilize the capabilities of others within their organization. It is the grace which one is able to utilize and delegate power which best distinguishes those who become executives. Once again, the problem is that when a person gains power, they expect others to follow their direction, to absolutely and resolutely walk within the executive footsteps. 

We can only make conjectures as to why human beings are so willing to give up such an important asset as empathy that benefits both them and their duties as executives. What we can more easily observe are their misguided expectations are about the nature of power is and what that means when power fails them. We can easily identify the simple fact that power is addictive. Power makes executives obstinate and inflexible. Power both initiates the executive to make necessary changes as well as prevents that same executive from making course corrections that lead to catastrophic organizational failure.  In many ways executive power with respect to true progress is essentially a random roll of the dice and it is the exceptional individual that will remain in touch with their empathy, humanity and humility while gaining executive power. Through information technologies, optimum solutions to mission critical problems do not suddenly exist at the top and there are many reasons why they do not necessarily rise to the top. Time constraints and liabilities prevent executives from becoming the experts champions so instead, they move laterally across organizations. The best solutions are not dictated but endorsed. This level of operational understanding about where solutions come from simply can not happen if executives in power are unwilling or find themselves unable to communicate. With respect to power, the act of serving your emotional needs is not the same as serving your employees and your customers.

In an age where power means distributed knowledge, creative leadership necessitates the placement of executive leaders who diligently lead through the intelligent and conscience disciplines of empathy, humanity and humility. Yesterday it was announced that America no longer leads in the production of cars. We obviously need such individuals in our car manufacturing industry. We desperately need better leaders Congress, just as we need them in religious organizations. The widespread negligent abuse of executive power is how our nation has gotten itself into problems that we all now must face.  Hopefully the next President of the United States will be able to manage the power that will be delegated to him or her with grace.     

Boss Doesn't Listen, Because He's the Boss

Power Makes One Less Likely to Take Others Seriously and Less Able to Comprehend How They See, Think and Feel Jan. 17, 2007  http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/print?id=2799743> )



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