The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Paradox of Power
Do you want more influence at work and life? The key to increased power is the opposite of what most of us do. Most of us hoard power. But here is the truth: the more power you give away, the more influential you are.
There are two primary reasons most people hoard power: pride and insecurity. With power we can easily become arrogant. It feels good and makes us feel important. (Maybe more important than others around us?) It begins to shape our identity and invades our ego. We become addicts reliant on a power fix to make us feel good and ignore pain.
Yesterday’s fix does not satiate today’s appetite, so we need more and when we don’t get it, we lose our security. We are no longer thankful for the opportunity to have influence. It becomes an addiction. We all know people who once were rational and lovely but became unrepentant tyrants. It’s all pride and insecurity.
I recall the difficulty of moving the “IT Agenda” forward in a specific organization. Originally technology stragglers, leadership was quick to allocate resources to any other area but IT. Clearly there are multiple approaches to overcoming this common situation and we employed many. Embracing the paradox of power was the single biggest strategy we adopted that enabled our organization to move from laggard to national leader in a very short time.
I served with a gifted CMIO who reported directly to me. Our relationship was amazing and extended far beyond the workplace. We didn’t want our friendship to change, but knew we needed broader influence, so we expanded his reporting relationships. At first it was a dual reporting relationship to the CMO and then ultimately grew to a triad reporting structure to the COO as well. This approach was so successful, we severed his reporting relationship to me entirely. We eventually took a similar path with the CNIO. The results? Laggards to leaders.
Think about it. When it was time to prioritize budget items, I had the power of a singular vote. Now, I wasn’t the only believer in the power of technology to transform how we delivered care, there were two others of the same opinion. The IT vote was essentially tripled. This is one example but you can see the principle in action. The more you give away, the more you receive. This method is effective in play, at home, and at work.
In contrast, the insecure leader tries to tighten their grip on influence. No sharing. Hoarding takes hold. Command and control. No longer viewed as a team player, the leader’s power slowly and painfully erodes and is no longer respected. Key people resign, leaving behind equally insecure “yes” men and women. In an effort to replenish and build power, energy is diverted and the insecure leader begins to self-destruct.
Not only does the leader lose, but the organization loses as well. It is an avoidable tragedy. Imagine an organization where leaders seek to share power with one another. That is where I want to serve!
The biggest blocker of giving away power is insecurity. You must be secure to give it away! Insecure leaders are easy to spot—they do the opposite. They grab for power and hold on for dear life. They protect power. They actually believe they are becoming more powerful by controlling people. Controlling reporting relationships. Controlling information. Controlling culture. Another paradox? The more they try to control, the more they become controlled, imprisoned behind bars of fear. The cellblock does not have a lock. None is required.
What is the message? Give it away. Yep. Give up your power. Give up the control. Give up the grip.
An interesting dynamic happens when you walk in the opposite mindset or what I tag “freedom.” The chains are loosened and eventually broken. As this transformation occurs, you see results that serve as motivation to give away even more. Not only did this approach help us transform healthcare delivery, but it also felt good and was fun. Insecure leaders hoarding power—not fun.
This paradox is active in every aspect of life. I had this experience with money way back when. We did not have much and everything we did have, we hoarded. We did not share. And things stayed about the same financially. One day, we started to give it away. We noticed that the door to our cell had no lock and eventually we walked out free. More money started coming in. The more we gave, the more we received.
A few years ago I posted about softball. I was the best on the team, but we were mediocre. I swallowed my pride, gave away my position and batting spot, and boom, we won every game. We went from mediocre to champions.
I could give you similar examples in love as well. Don’t argue with me until you try it. If it does not work, then let’s talk! You want more power, more love, more success, more of anything? Give away more and let the cell door slam shut behind you!