Monday, July 12, 2010

Positional vs. Personal Power

I came across an old edition of the magazine “Life@work”. This particular issue (vol.4, no.3 - 2000) deals with Power with particular reference to the life of Moses. I will like to share some of the lessons learnt through this blog. Let me start with this quotation by Abraham Lincoln - “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
The meekness that Moses demonstrated during his life was an integral part of his personal power, while his specific role as leader of Israel was an example of the positional power that God has given him. Generally speaking, it is into those two categories that power – particularly as evidenced in the business world – falls.
Positional power is the ability to act on the basis of one’s station or platform in life. In the corporate world, a person’s positional power is measured by his title, the size and placement of his office, his salary, the number of employees he has under his control, and whether he drives his own car or has a chauffeur-driven car. The very nature of these trappings reveals that positional power is external, and, as such, it can come and go. When a corporate CEO retires, he relinquishes his right to his office.
Personal power, on the other hand, is based on moral authority. It represents a source of energy that flows from the inside out. From a theological perspective, a person with type of power knows who he is. He knows what his skills are. He knows what he was created to do. He has an eternal sense of purpose, and as a result, his life is characterized by peace, contentment and integrity. Personal power is tied to reputation, which means that if a person loses his reputation, he also can lose his personal power.
Moses, for example, never would have been able to lead the Israelites for 40 years without a good deal of personal and positional power. These are some of the lessons we can learn from his life.
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 specific post. Whatever the case, it doesn’t really belong to us, and we have no guarantees that 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. When God gives us a certain amount of power, He expects us to be good stewards of it. Power is never an end in itself, Like money, it is a tool – to influence someone, to help a cause, to right a wrong, to create an opportunity. It’s up to us to figure out why we have been blessed with our power and then to use it correctly.
Personal power and personal power must never be confused.
If a significant part of our authority stems from our position – as a CEO, a business owner or an elected official – there’s always a danger that we might slip into the mode of assuming that people do what we say because of our own influence over them. Then, when that authority slips away – when a new person takes over the office or we’re replaced by a new CEO – we lose our identity. That’s why it’s important to remember that positional power can come and go, and personal power often grows over time.
The more power we give away, the more powerful we become
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit his family in the Israelite camp. The next day, Moses opened court and began mediating the people’s disputes, from morning until evening. When Jethro realized that this was Moses’ daily practice, he gave him some advice that has stood the test of time, particularly in organizational management circles.
“What you are doing is not good,” Jethro said. “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone….You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to Him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens……That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you” (Exodus 18:17-22). Moses took his father-in-law’s advice. He didn’t figure it out on his own, but once he shown the value of empowering the people, he didn’t try to hoard all the power. For Moses, giving power away not only was efficient and effective, but it also significantly expendade his depth of leadership. That, in turn, helped him in the continual exercise of power that was required as he led the Israelites.
When God gives us power, it is up to Him to keep us in power.
Throughout the course of his leadership tenure, Moses had significant challenges to his power. But whether they came from members of his inner circle (Miriam and Aaron) or from rebels among the people (see Numbers 16), he never fought back. He left vindication up to God, and God never failed him. If we’re in a position of leadership, it’s not a matter of whether people will challenge out power, it’s a matter of when. At that point, we are faced with the same three choices we face as we deal with any other aspect of power. We can overreact, we can unplug or we can balance on that sweet spot in the middle and wait for God to act on our behalf. However, it will require discipline to take the journey and to live with the mockery, the condescending comments, the inevitable second-guessing.
Please let me know your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes people confuse positional power with personal power and when they are no longer in that position they wonder what happened.

    It's difficult for people not to misuse positonal power, and those that don't are often deemed as twits because they supposedly didn't 'use' it when they had the chance.

    Good thoughs to ponder on. Keep it up bros.


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