POWER can be found in the most ordinary places and wielded by the most ordinary people. What is done with this power, whether this is translated into a force for positive change or on the other extreme, a toll for personal aggrandizements depends on the motivations of the people who wield it.
This second part of the interview with Dr. Blaine Lee, author of “The Power Principle: Influence with Honor” delves deeper into the different facets of power.
PaW: In the workplace, there may be situations when people in certain positions not powerful positions per use the little power they have for their own self-interest. How can a leader in a company prevent or correct this?
Lee: So they have little positions but they are in a position of power because they control something. They’re gatekeepers and so they can get a little something on the side.
Let me tell you what a philosopher said. He said, “When the morals of the society are sufficient, law is unnecessary. When the morals are insufficient, the laws are unenforceable.”
If I want to change something but the overall society says that’s totally unacceptable, what’s going to prevail? Edward Demings, the father of quality, says that if you put good people into bad system, you get bad results, invariably. If you have an assembly line or a work process and you have a good, resourceful person, but they’re not reinforced for that and everyone else punishes them for any behavior deviating from the norm, (then you get bad results). That’s what we’re talking about the norm.
You got to do two things. Number one, this is a long process. This is not going to change in an instant. So you got to have this perspective. Number two, I’ve got to have my eyes open. I’m going to tie up the camel. I’m going to work in the streets while I’m working for a change for something better.
My belief is you don’t have to tear down someone’s home. You show them a better house in which to live and they’ll move in there. You come in and start to threaten a man’s house, you are going to get a fight. Maybe he’ll try to kill you. So you come in and say, “You can’t do that anymore.” They say, “Wait a minute. I’m getting money from this. It works. It gives you a sense of power. You’re going to take that away from me? What do you offer in exchange of that?” Until the norm of the society starts to change, this is going to keep happening. So I say, “I recognize that it’s going to keep happening but at the same time we start to say, what if we’re different?”
So as manager, I’m going to work with things the way they are, But as a leader, I’m going to say ‘what if?‘ I can imagine the possibility that doesn’t exist. And I’m going to work and give myself and my life to that.
When your president (of the Philippines) took over and she writes this moral compass I have integrity in everything that I do. I’m going to let you know where my money is coming from- what is she saying? She’s saying, “I’m not going to have 3,000 pairs of shoes.” Does she live up to it? Does she have critics? Yes, she has critics. People are doing these; people are saying that. But still she’s saying that this is what we’re striving for. Maybe she’ll fall short. I think every leader will but that’s what the leader does. He doesn’t just accept that’s the way it is, we’re going to take advantage of it, He will say, “I know this is the world in which I work. But I’m going to hold out for something that’s better.” When a ship captain says he is going to turn the ship, he makes the decision and five miles later, the ship starts to turn. That’s the process we’re involved in.
PaW: Why would somebody using a coercive power type of leadership and making hay in the process move towards principle-based power?
Lee: Usually, I ask, “How does it feel being you? How do you like what you’re doing?” They say, “Well, it’s great.” I ask, “How do you sleep at night?” They answer, “Well, I have to have a private guard.” “Why?” “To protect myself.” I ask, “Would you like it to be different? Do you have anything to offer to anybody?” They say, “Oh, yes, I have a lot of things.” Great, you can move over here, one little step.
In the long haul, these what I want to ask them, How do you want to treat your children? How do you want to treat the people who work with you everyday? How do you want to treat your own employees, your business partners? You want to win when they fail? Is that good business? Yes, you can do that. You can take advantage of them.. But is that really what you want long-term?” Sometimes they say, “Come back next year and I’ll talk to you again.”
When we’re talking about the evolution of the culture, the economy and the entire country, we think over the long haul.
PaW: Who among the world leaders do you think embody the principles you espouse in your book?
Lee: I think there are a number who try. There’s always a danger in saying, “Look at this one person. They never make mistakes. They do everything right.” Nobody does. And I certainly don’t. But I try to. My life certainly goes better when I do.
I have been fascinated with our own country with our new president. A lot of people say he wasn’t very articulate and so on, but in the face of this crisis, I think he’s demonstrated dramatic, strong, principled leadership. Right now, he’s very popular more than any president’s ever been. I don’t know if the will change over time.
It’s easy to pick someone like Gandhi or Mother Teresa who lived exceptional lives. But I don’t know. I think there are many people who are trying to do that. And when that happens, it blesses the lives of many people. I think many people are trying to do that in their own homes. I could give you a long list of such kind of people who are corporate leaders. Many of them are clients of mine. They are not in the newspaper. They just very quietly build values in their companies. Their stock prices are going up. They are blessing the lives of their employees. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves. They have a different purpose.
PaW: May people think that Asian countries need Asian leaders who are autocratic like Mahathir because Malaysia has been quite successful in the way it has developed. What do you think?
Lee: I think that when there is a crisis, I wan n autocratic leader. If this building is on fire, I don’t want someone to say, “Let’s have a committee who asks, ‘What do you think? Who wants to leave? Who wants to stay here?’” But the problem is people say, “It worked in a crisis, let’s do it all the time.”
There are certainly times when someone must make a decision. I had one boss who said, “Blaine, if there are two people riding on a horse, someone must ride in the front.” Where does that leave the other person? In the back. That’s great but all of life is not like riding a horse. Sometimes, it’s in a bus, in a bicycle. It’s the wise leader who can do what’s necessary under times of crisis but when the crisis passes, steps back and says, “Now, where do you want to go?”
PaW: How is Stephen Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” different or similar to your book?
Lee: Stephen’s focus really was the personal focus. His concern was the Seven Habits and I think the key to its universal appeal is that it’s so applicable to individuals, whoever they are. And the power of the Seven Habits has to do with taking the power in our lives. I have taught Seven Habits with Stephen for 15 years. It is wonderful material and it continues to be a world-wide best seller and is translated into many languages.
But what we didn’t have with Seven Habits is the application in the business world the connection between you and other people. So if you’re working on yourself, that’s important and that’s always the starting point. But how do I connect now with other people? So this was the bridge that I brought.
I have a little diagram, I call it the process of power, and it talks about four different paths to power. Stephen’s book makes the assumption that you can be pro-active, you’re not a victim, you’re a volunteer. And you can control people by being cruel or eliciting fear in them or you can influence people by making deals with them or by who you are.
What I did was I took that and expanded it, and also added this column that we call being powerless. So now, in addition to dependence, independence and interdependence which is the foundation for Stephen’s work, we have codependency, which is what happens when you have someone who has built his life around the weakness of another person.
In the newspaper this morning, there was a wonderful article about a woman who had an abusive husband and two children. Her husband abandoned her. She’s feeling powerless, she’s feeling like a victim. Some terrible things have happened. But she went on to do some marvelous things. Today, she’s the director of Symex- the third largest company in the world and she’s influential, she’s accumulated assets, and her children are now in their 20s. She’s a grandmother and a very influential woman here in the Philippines because she overcame powerlessness and moved into this other column,
Everyone feels powerless in the face of something, maybe in the face of the government, graft and corruption. Maybe in the face of someone else who’s in the position you don’t have. Maybe it’s in the face of something you have not been able to accomplish that you wanted to. Maybe it’s in the face of an abusive situation in your own family. Maybe it’s in your clan or you feel that someone else has the power and you don’t. Everyone in some settings feels impotent or powerless or helpless or hopeless. My book talks about how you move from that into the world of power. I believe everyone can make a difference. Maybe we can’t change the world but we can change someone’s whole world.
So I really dedicated my life, professionally, to try and share those concepts. And we probably have a quarter of a million copies of this book now in people’s hands, And it continues to be powerful concepts and I think that’s why they brought me here, to share these things.
Those are the distinctions between Stephen’s work and mine. There’s a parallel with maturity continuum. There’s also an extension and application in the world of business and community living.
(Dr. Lee is represented here in the Philippines by the Center of Leadership and Change, the official distributor of Franklin Covey products and services. The may be contacted 4F Ateneo Professional Schools Bldg., 130 de la Costa St. Salcedo Village.)
Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer November 14, 2001.
Photo credit: www.sxc.hu