October 04, 2005

Good day, team,
The coach’s challenge this week is about abuse of power. People who are in positions in which they supervise, manage or strongly influence others are in positions of power. Along with this power comes a great responsibility. When our decisions, our behavior and even our general state of mind have a great affect on the people we oversee, we have a responsibility not to abuse them.

Abuse of power can come in many forms. There are the more obvious forms: that of the tyrant who demands that his servants do his bidding, or the uncaring type of aristocrat, like Marie Antoinette, who exclaimed, “Let them eat cake!” as the French people were dying of starvation in the streets. Perhaps it’s the patriarch who supresses his family members with verbal and physical beatings. But what about the more subtle forms of abuse that often show up in the corporate arena, but are never addressed?

Take, for instance, the passive-aggressive approach: The manager who withholds information from his staff so they will make the type of decision that the manager really wants them to make, or the supervisor who asks the staff for suggestions, but has already made up his or her mind about what action to take and is simply going through the motions. There’s also the abusive nature of people who decide when they’ll participate with their team and when they won’t. Team members who decide when they want to show up for meetings based on how they want to “position” themselves rather than being willing to participate regularly, regardless of the challenge, are often abusing the privilege of being a member of the team in the first place. They seem more interested in how they appear, rather than being a fully engaged member of the team. Perhaps they’re routinely five to 15 minutes late to meetings. This tends to force the rest of the team to wait for them to appear before any real action can take place.

We often think of power as something overt and obvious. But often times, inaction is more powerful than action. I’ve seen time and again managers who won’t engage. This attitude forces the rest of their team to scramble, dance or do whatever it takes to work around them. The level of frustration that ensues from constantly feeling like one’s supervisor is immobile, like a huge rock in the road, is incredibly stressful and demotivating. In these cases, people just give up. They either quit or they disengage.

So what is power, really? The following quote from Roswell D. Hitchcock is a good explanation: “Real power has fullness and variety. It is not narrow like lightning, but broad like light. The man who truly and worthily excels in any one line of endeavor might also, under a change of circumstances, have excelled in some other line. Power is a thing of solidity and wholeness.” We’ve all experienced how powerful it can be when someone finally speaks the truth. It’s very frustrating to sit in meetings and listen to people speak half-truths or express their opinions as if they’re the only truth.

There is an element of patience in the right use of power, and part of that is knowing when the time is right to get to the heart of the matter, express it, and move on. Honore de Balzac wrote, “Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true.”

Your challenge this week is to consider where your power lies and in what ways you use it. Do you direct your fellow team members with an element of kindness and consideration ? Are you being responsible to the authority you have by using it for the common good? Or do you use fear and subtle forms of intimidation to get what you want? Do you withhold from others to control a situation? Do you undercut others behind their backs to negatively influence their opinions?

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Try to see how your power affects the people around you. A true test is to see if you’re the kind of leader you would want to work for.

Have a great week!

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