Nature of Power
Power is not a moral value but the force with which we put forth our values or the reputation we earn because of those values. When we put forth our values to meet a challenge or resolve a problem, we actively tap our power, calling on our sense of right or wrong or fairness to address those situations. Too little power, and we betray our values. Too much power, and we oppress others. Afterward, depending on our choice, power is passive and a function of reputation; we can bask in its glow or sweat in its glare.
Four-Step Power Process
1. Ascertain your personal and professional power.
Ethical people acknowledge their power so they can tap or restrain it during suspected challenges or crises. To acknowledge your power base, make a list of items.
- Am I intellectually or physically powerful?
- Do I have access to powerful tools or technology like cameras or computers?
- Can I communicate powerful ideas?
- Do I know or have access to powerful people?
- Do I supervise or have authority over others?
- What other aspects of my life involve power?
2. Evaluate your personal or professional power.
After you have acknowledged your power base, determine how you have been employing that power. Analyze each item on your list.
- Do I usually abuse this type of power when I have the opportunity?
- Do I usually exert the appropriate amount of this power to meet each challenge or problem? Or do I usually over- or underestimate situations?
- Do I usually avoid using this type of power at all costs?
3. Take prudent action or practice restraint.
Identify items on your power list that are reliable or need improvement. The goal is to meet each challenge or problem with the appropriate amount of power to suit the occasion.
- When I feel the urge to take action, do I usually (a) suppress that urge when the stakes or consequences warrant a response, (b) act on behalf of others for whom I have no responsibility, or (c) act in my own interests?
Note: If (a) or (b), seek advice from a mentor or role model whose judgment you trust to determine how to proceed or whether your participation is really required.
- What are the usual results of my taking action: (a) bigger or more complex problems, (b) symbolic but important participation, (c) compromise to resolve a situation or dispute, or (d) total resolution of a situation or dispute?
Note: If (a), practice restraint until you can determine how your participation will be beneficial.
- If I take action, who else might be affected: (a) innocent individuals or groups, (b) individuals or groups indirectly associated with the situation, or (c) only those directly associated with the situation?
Note: If (a) or (b), practice restraint until you can determine whether your interests are greater than the effect your actions may have on other innocent or indirectly related persons or parties.
4. Take responsibility for your actions.
Once you have ascertained and evaluated your power, you need to accept consequences for your actions. This will help you maintain or restore your personal integrity and/or professional credibility.
- Do I have anything to apologize for or correct? For instance, did I misperceive a threat or make a hasty judgment based on faulty information?
Note: If so, apologize or correct errors to match the degree of misperceptions or mistakes … without unduly damaging your own or other parties’ interests.
- Does another party have anything to apologize to me for or correct? For instance, did someone else misperceive a threat by you or make a hasty judgment based on faulty information?
Note: If so, you may decide to demand an apology or a correction or some other resolution to offset the misperception or mistake.
- Are the consequences a direct result of (a) my actions, (b) part my and part someone else’s actions over which I had no influence or control, or (c) someone else’s actions over which I had no influence or control.
Note: If (b) or (c), assume responsibility for your part in the situation and/or inform other affected parties about the actions over which you had no influence or control.