Yesterday i shared part of the writing around ‘Power’ that i’m pulling together for a new programme called ‘Social Leadership – Power and Potential’ – i’m prototyping this work with a Pharma company leadership cohort in February, and building out the Guide to accompany it now. Today i share two sections of that new work: this is still first draft. Both these sections are exploring the ‘Mechanisms’ of your power. The first explores what you can achieve alone, and the second looks at what you can influence others to do.
In this first section we will be considering your power and where the edges of it lie. We will consider what you can achieve alone, how you influence others, what lies beyond your control, and how your power is limited.
These are not the only four questions that we could have asked, but they will carry us around the landscape of how your power works.
What can you achieve, alone?
Consider what you can achieve alone. Entirely alone.
Can you dig a hole? Can you drive to work? Can you cook a meal? Or do even these things come with a reliance on others: to find a spade that someone else forged, to ensure your car runs smoothly because a mechanic trained well, to find the right recipe that someone chose to share?
At heart we are social creatures, which means more than simply conversational ones. We live in interdependent systems, co-dependent relationships, which, whilst overlaid with marketplaces and rituals, are ultimately held in common.
We often feel we are acting with agency, but it’s worth considering how that agency is found: often it is through the permission, support, the hard work or consensus of others.
To understand this, the relationship between ‘self’ and ‘system’ is important. It allows us to take action.
Perhaps there is a difference between ‘solitary’ and ‘alone’. Thinking can be a solitary, as well as collaborative, activity: but do we do it ‘alone’?
My thinking is influenced: by my reading, by my communities, by my beliefs. It does not take place in isolation, but rather entirely within context. It is not truly ‘alone’, although it is often solitary.
Hence the colours that i paint my thinking in are part of a broader palette.
Organisations are inherently collective: although they may not be synergistic or effective without working at it.
To be part of an Organisation implies a whole, so our power is intrinsically nested within a structure.
There are undoubtedly things that we do alone, but often within a broader sequence of activities that are collective or collaborative, or which are dependent upon the actions or goodwill of others.
Understanding the collective nature of much of our power – either through the ways it is granted or moderated – can lead us to view power as more of a collective than individual feature – which in turn can guide our actions.
Is it always clear what sequence an action lies within? Is it possible that parts of a sequence are occluded from us?
Do we sometimes feel we have achieved alone simply because we are blind to the input, or our dependence, on others?
Are you more satisfied with solitary achievement than teamwork?
Are some things simply impossible together – or impossible alone?
What can you influence others to do?
If only part of our power is ‘alone’, then do we understand how we influence others to our will? If effectiveness is a collective effort, who sets the direction, and who steers the ship? And how?
Consider what you are able to influence others to do, and what are the ways that you do so: do you paint pictures or incite to action? Do you push or pull?
Influence may be about handing over directions and a story, or supporting people in finding their own. It may be overt, or implicit. Benign or toxic.
We should recognise that influence is not simply an activity: it’s a feature of the context that our leadership is held within.
Simply being called a ‘leader’ in a formal system provides context and may influence others directly.
Similarly, being called a ‘troublemaker’ provides context and may influence them too. It may influence others to oppose you, or join you, and hence a study of power is linked to a study of social movements more generally – seeing them as sequences of storytelling and mobilisation of power.
Consider what you can influence others to do: can you influence them simply to take blind action, or to think differently about the actions that they take?
Can you achieve consistency across a team, or does your influence cause divergence – even disagreement or polarity? Or is that, too, contextual?
Is your influence like a penknife than can be used to do many jobs – or like a hammer that does one thing well, but may cause damage if used incorrectly?
Is your influence held within a reputation, a personal story, your charisma, or something else?
Is influence always a conscious act, or may people be influenced by you even though you don’t want them to be – and if so, do you carry any responsibility (or should you garner any reward) from their actions or effect?