September 19, 1997


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Power comes in many forms: dollars, position, numbers, knowledge, competence. Regardless of the package, bow, and delivery system, it must be respected and treated as a fragile explosive agent.

Power is as dangerous as unstable dynamite, not only to those it is used on but those who exercise it–Tom Marshall, in Understanding Leadership.

Whether it places us over 100,000 employees, a whole nation, or two young kids at home, we all have some measure of power. Power is a sacred trust. It doesn’t matter if we inherit our power, if we attain it gradually as we rise through the corporate ranks, or if we receive it by virtue of being elected to a post. Whatever the case, it doesn’t really belong to us, and we have no guarantee it will last. The only thing we know for sure is that, for as long as we have it, we are responsible for using it wisely.

There is positional power and personal power. Positional power comes and goes. Positional power comes from the title we hold, the office we work from, the car we drive, the salary we bring home, the neighborhood where we live, and the such. It is externally driven and comes for a while then goes and makes its home at someone else’s address. The sooner we can learn the reality that positional power does not belong to us personally the better power broker we will become.

Personal power, however, is based on moral authority. It represents a source of energy that flows from the inside out. Unlike positional power it does belong to us. Personal power is founded upon who we are not what we do, where we live, what we own or who we know.

Personal power and positional power must never be confused. Both can be abused and or neglected. Both can be use to advance the good, the right, and the true.

Anyone who realizes that he’s guarding his power too much had better start examining himself for breeches of ethics. As I said earlier, power can be terribly seductive.

Any one entrusted with power will abuse it if not also animated with the love of truth and virtue, no matter whether he be a prince, or one of the people. –Jean De La Fontaine

Read the following statements and then react to them as you look at your own life:

Statement: Many abuses of power are a result of one receiving power too early.

1. When is a person ready for power?

2. Are you ready to receive power?

3. In what areas do you need to mature to be a more responsible holder of power?

Statement: The preservation of power is often a source of ethical compromise.

1. How could keeping yourself in power lead to bending the Golden Rule?

2. Have you ever been tempted to pursue self-preservation of power instead of using it to better the organization?

Statement: Power is bestowed upon a person for service, yet many in power develop a sense of entitlement or privilege and begin to believe that he or she and the institution are one.

1. How can power be used to serve oneself instead of the organization?

2. Have you ever been tempted to use your power to benefit yourself at the cost of the organization? How did you come to think this was OK?

Statement: Power is to be viewed as a temporary gift, but when one begins to think he is the cause of the power and not the recipient, then compromise is forthcoming.

1. How can we hold onto the power we have received with both a sense of personal responsibility and not believe that the organization revolves around us?

2. Which is more important to you: the preservation of the organization or the promotion of self?

Power is never an end in itself. Like money, it is a tool- to influence someone, to help a cause, to right and wrong, to create an opportunity. The more power we give away the more powerful we become.

A great man is one who can have power and not abuse it.” –Henry L. Doherty

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