Wisdom Workout: Pressing Power into Service

By Susan McNeal Velasquez

By Susan McNeal Velasquez

As a consultant, much of my time is spent listening to the intricate details of power struggles played out in organizations and personal relationships.

The details are unique but the underpinnings of the disagreements are similar. A tug of war for who has the power.

Position power is defined as the authority to control, command, fuel, rule, muscle, drive, and/or dominate.  Personal power is the ability to influence, sway, engage, and lead through the use of unique levels of both emotional and mental intelligence.

Many of us seek direct power through the positions we earn.  When I was working in the corporate world, my title of executive vice-president gave me position power in the organization. I’m not knocking the fact that it was a true asset in getting my job done. Titles help to easily inform others of the level of authority inherent in the position. Ideally, the marriage of position power with personal power is the perfect formula to use our people skills in a discerning manner.

Lately, I have been exploring the leadership attributes of some of our non-profit organizations that tend to attract talented contributors who get their needs met by following their passion to serve those who are less fortunate or lack resources. The use of position power tempered with high levels of personal power creates a working relationship between power and service to others. Organizations and individuals operate on a continuum of these two approaches. Some of us are motivated by leading with position power and others predominately by service.

Here’s where it can get interesting. Power driven individuals don’t understand service people. They might admire them for their commitment to doing good works but they, often unconsciously, hold the idea that since service people don’t seem to be motivated to jump into the fray and battle issues out, it is because they are without the strength to be powerful. They conclude that the person is too weak and dependent which is why they shun power.

Let me be clear. It could be easy to assume that I am saying that position power is inferior. Therefore, position power is wrong and personal power used in service to others is right. Instead, I am proposing that power struggles often arise as a result of core misunderstandings in regard to power and service.

If we elevate service orientation while denigrating the use of direct power, we are in danger of over-using compassion, empathy and consensus management. The unintended result is great intentions but not enough substantive results. Position power brings the authority to use clear yes’s and no’s as the reins to fulfill the intended purpose of the organization or partnership.

Position power is often the last word based on the authority invested in the role. It has the properties of inflexibility. “I am the deciding factor in the outcome and the buck stops here.”

When we use position power, real or imagined, in our relationships, a quick way to know it is that we feel thwarted and become angry, when we don’t get what we want.

Personal power is fueled by our unique identity. We bring more openness, receptivity and a more flexible approach to the issues we face. The predominant experience of a more personal power approach is that we will become overly disappointed when we don’t get what we want.

It is our choice and our challenge to elevate kindness, compassion, cooperation and service to an equal partnership position. Our personal power can be used to temper any tendencies towards using authority and position power to over-control and over-power others, simply because we can.

The ability to respond with discernment and the capacity to author, use our authority wisely, is the ultimate leadership challenge in this complex world that we face today.

A fulfilling life hinges on our power to act, influence, inspire and produce positive results by expanding our vision to include both power and service as equal partners in our quest for happiness and success.

Susan is the author of the emotional intelligence resource book: Beyond Intellect: Journey Into the Wisdom of Your Intuitive Mind.  Reach her at: susanvelasquez.com or 494-7773.


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