Why the need for power is a sign of weakness

Joan F. Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be at ease with what they have, while others want to be in control of everything? And have you ever tried to perceive this power-hunger as an attempt to hide insecurity by establishing a secure position?

You can see it in almost every workplace: a manager/supervisor who communicates effortlessly with subordinates on a regular basis, essentially: the one that performs MBWA (Management by wandering around) and does not feel elevated above co-workers, feels no need to prove anything. He/she is usually spontaneously respected by colleagues, and can count on their support in critical times.

On the contrary, the manager who surrounds himself with a small group of loyalists often displays paranoid symptoms, such as distrust toward non in-group members, and an overly controlling and stern attitude toward these people. He/she is mainly interested in conveying one message: I am in power here and you better obey me, or else... The position of this person is in general, "Let them hate, so long as they fear" (Accius). This is also known as coercive management, and generally just leads to anger, opposition, and finally withdrawal.

What many workers fail to realize is that the second category of managers entails the ones that management theorist McGregor would describe as theory X-managers, who assume that workers are unwilling and unknowing, and should be treated as potential threats to the organization. The blunder that these managers mainly make is to confuse power with authority. Nevertheless, "Authority is not power; that's coercion. Authority is not knowledge; that's persuasion, or seduction. Authority is simply that the author has the right to make a statement and to be heard" (Herman Kahn).

The first-mentioned type of executives, on the other hand, could be identified as theory Y-managers, who assume that co-workers are smart and should be given the room to perform and provide intelligent input where desired. These are the managers that perceive power as described by Stephen Covey, namely, "Power is the faculty or capacity to act, the strength and potency to accomplish something. It is the vital energy to make choices and decisions. It also includes the capacity to overcome deeply embedded habits and to cultivate higher, more effective ones."

From the above-stated it becomes fairly transparent that the theory X-manager, who has the negative predisposition about workers, is most likely burdened by an insecure personality, trying to disguise his/her weakness by pulling up a solid protective wall of devotees (the in-group). These are the few whom he/she blindly trusts and listens to, hence allowing him/herself to fall into the trap of becoming a follower instead of a leader to his/her partisans! And the worst part of this management style is, that the rest of the workforce the larger part - feels excluded and will therefore be unwilling to display loyalty to this manager in hard times.

Since the MBWA manager 1) simply admits what he/she doesn't know, 2) doesn't feel too prominent to ask advice from co-workers, and 3) communicates without filtering (trying to alter the truth and make it look more acceptable to the recipient), this person will earn deep and honest respect from the entire department. Ultimately, this person will not own power, but greatness.

In conclusion, this little write-up should have demonstrated that a need for power often if not always comes forth from a lack of security, and an abundance of inner-weakness. Yet, power is a funny thing: it usually spontaneously nestles itself there, where it is least desired. And it mercilessly abandons the one that anxiously tries to consolidate it. Lao Tzu's explanation of flexibility and yielding as elements of real power, may serve as the final conundrum, "Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. []."