Few would ever verbalize their desire to lead as a desire for power. We talk of the desire to have a greater impact, to serve more effectively, to take on more responsibility, to answer the call of duty to do the hard things that need to be done — all noble intentions, and all sincerely felt and believed, generally speaking. Some may even be so transparent as to admit that in seeking ever increasing levels of leadership positions, they are really after the escalating financial rewards that come with them.
But power? Who would ever be so craven as to acknowledge that that is what they are reaching for?
Regardless of one’s motivation, when you get ahold of the brass ring of a leadership position, the Power that comes with it gets ahold of you, and that’s when the drama starts to unfold.
In crafting his Middle Earth masterpieces, J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t conjure the ultimate One Ring to Rule Them All as being the —
- Ring of Wealth
- Ring of Knowledge
- Ring of Strength
All such notions could’ve been used by Tolkien, as each in its own way represents an asset that has the power to corrupt and control its owner and others. But Tolkien didn’t, and wisely so, for things such as Wealth, Knowledge, and Strength are really just different forms of currency for the real value they can bring: Power. It is the power of Power itself that corrupts, and the greater the power, the greater the incline of the slippery slope into the abyss of corruption. Power manifests itself in the wealth that can buy the compliance of others, or the knowledge that can outwit others into doing one’s bidding, or the strength to command allegiance through brute force. In each of these ways, and countless others, the ability to exert itself upon others is both the lure of Power, and its curse.
… every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (–its will to power:) and to thrust back all that resists its extension. But it continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other bodies and ends by coming to an arrangement (“union”) with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: thus they then conspire together for power. And the process goes on–
If to lead is to wield power (and it definitely is), what then is a sincere, well-intentioned, leader of integrity supposed to do? How does one bear the weight of leadership’s power without becoming grotesquely twisted by it? There are two key ingredients to the antidote for Power’s poison, both of which are insufficient without the other:
- Humility — this is not about being merely modest about yourself or your position of power. Real humility is about seeing yourself through the lens of Reality. Regardless of your position, authority, wealth, or power, you are still just a person who processes oxygen to live the same as those “beneath” you. You neither influenced the circumstances of your arrival on this earth, nor can you dictate the terms of your departure from it. The passage of time and the laws of physics care not that you are a CEO, Sr. VP, or the Owner.
- Connection — As Simon Sinek notes in Leaders Eat Last, Power tends to isolate organizational leaders in the same way it does political despots. To keep from succumbing to the gravitational pull of Power, leaders must remain deeply connected to people — whether family, friends, peers, advisers. Find people like this who you can count on to help you on your journey, and make them part of your Fellowship … your “traveling party.” The key is making sure these people —
- aren’t motivated by having what you have;
- aren’t overly impressed by what you have;
- aren’t focused on receiving the benefits of what you have;
- are committed to protecting you from harm, including (especially) the self-inflicted variety;
- are willing to speak hard truths and take confrontational measures if necessary to keep you focused on why you’re in a leadership position rather than that you’re the Leader.
As you stretch for that next level of leadership responsibility, remember that it isn’t about you, and you won’t survive alone.