Life

Taming the Two Faces of Power: From Malevolent to Benevolent

In any structured community, as vast as a nation, as intimate as a household, or within an economy akin to Robinson and Friday’s, power stands as unequivocal “hard currency,” and its standing mirrors that of the marketplace. Currency holds equivalency.

Nevertheless, individuals appear hesitant to openly broach the subject of power, to delve into its acquisition and utilization openly, with insights and experiences often exchanged in the privacy of confidential conversations, as enigmatic as secrets passed down through generations. The core rationale lies in the perception, both among the commonfolk and the elite, that while the value of power is undeniable, its procurement and retention inevitably intertwine with traits such as corruption, malevolence, callousness, and aloofness.

Hence, within business circles or scholarly domains, discourse often veers towards the allure of “leadership,” akin to a tantalizing mirage, rather than confronting power head-on. Indeed, as Deborah Greenfield, esteemed professor of social psychology and organizational dynamics at Stanford University, articulated in “Acting with Power: Why We Possess More Influence Than Perceived,” “Our identity and impact upon the world hinge not on the magnitude of our power, but on its application.” Similarly, the late innovator Clayton Christensen posited, “If one seeks to aid others, one should aspire to be a steward. For when executed adeptly, stewardship epitomizes one of the loftiest vocations.”

Power, with its dual capacity for malevolence and benevolence, prompts inquiry into its potential for good. This endeavor commences with an understanding of the origins of detrimental power.

1. Why Malevolent Power Manifests

INSEAD luminary Manfred Cates de Vries labels certain individuals—be they entrepreneurs or executives—as “supreme captives.” Why does an individual devolve into a ravenous hedonist, a hypocrite cloaked in duplicity, a tyrant employing coercion, a narcissist convinced of innate superiority, or a “playboy” harassing subordinates?

Power itself bears resemblance to a malevolent force. Failure to tame it subjects one to its dominion.

Deborah’s research indicates that sans the concept of power, individuals exercise caution in societal interactions, adhering to self-monitoring, steering clear of entanglements; they prioritize duties and weigh outcomes for others before pursuing personal interests. Yet, once vested with power, personal agendas usurp altruism, disregarding others’ well-being or perspectives.

Additionally, individuals lacking mental equilibrium may paradoxically excel in power contests, attaining lucrative positions.

Consider the bully, wielding control through intimidation to assuage deep-seated insecurities, projecting them onto targets. The egomaniac craves adulation, power, seeking validation perhaps from an indifferent or abusive paternal figure. As for the “playboy,” his pursuits may stem from a desperate quest for solace, as societal pressures to assert masculine dominance engender feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, feebleness, incompetence, or unappreciation.

Suggesting psychiatric intervention for those in power seems prudent. Yet, it remains a challenging proposition, unless one can rewrite their spiritual “source code” akin to the inception process. Educating and empowering individuals vulnerable to abusive power dynamics appears a more viable strategy.

2. Victims, “Accomplices” of Malevolent Power

Curiously, those wielding abusive power often exude charisma, drawing admiration.

Recall the fervor surrounding the anti-corruption drama “In the Name of the People.” Beyond celebrating justice’s triumph over evil, the villain “Qi Tongwei” garnered sympathy.

Indeed, power’s allure renders its wielders radiant, enticing individuals to gravitate towards it. Moreover, those scarred by past abuse may seek refuge in powerful figures.

However, malevolent powers exploit such vulnerabilities ruthlessly. To evade becoming prey, one must heed instincts, discern warning signs, and rebuff relentless advances. Such individuals possess an uncanny charm, adept at manipulation. Beware those who shower accolades while harboring disdain, accruing “filthy” power destined to bring misery.

Furthermore, cultivating emotional resilience proves imperative. Fragility invites exploitation, whereas a steely resolve deters malevolent forces.

Reject the victim mentality. Display composure, assertiveness, and unwavering resolve in adversity. Refuse to condone wrongdoing, articulating displeasure courteously yet firmly. Establish boundaries, daring to assert oneself in a secure environment.

Seek alliances. In the digital era, even if solidarity eludes one within their immediate sphere, external movements like #MeToo offer support.

Lastly, cultivate empathy. It doesn’t entail capitulation but active listening, acknowledging power wielders’ desperation, preempting malevolent behavior.

3. The “Good” Shy Away; Ambivalence Towards Power

Mere rejection of malevolence doesn’t necessarily engender benevolence. It risks perpetuating harm onto others. Good, moderately tempered individuals competing for and wielding power wield the greatest potential for good. Confucius opined, “If the upright thrive and transgressions are corrected, the populace will obey.” Refraining from intervention surrenders power, justice, and goodness to the wrongdoers.

Yet, the virtuous may shun power, deeming themselves incapable of wielding it. However, power proves inevitable, essential for societal functioning. Rejecting it consigns one to mediocrity. Moreover, delving into power’s intricacies unearths a more profound understanding of self, transcending superficial facets.

The virtuous eschew sainthood, aspiring to lead ordinary lives. Eradicating biases against power and adopting apt methodologies suffices. Deborah’s research furnishes a roadmap.

Understand power’s essence. While control typifies power, it hinges on being indispensable—”Once needed, others placate and cede control.” Thus, identifying needs supersedes flaunting traits. Wealth, charm, or ambition may hint at power but aren’t its essence. Addressing needs fosters enduring power, contrasting fleeting displays of dominance.

Embrace acting techniques. Overcome performance anxiety, rehearse, and immerse oneself in the present moment. Stick to the narrative, embodying one’s role authentically. Prioritize collective interests, valuing contributions over personal recognition.

Assert authority subtly. Employ aggressive postures sparingly, balancing dominance with humility. Encourage collaboration, empathize with others, and shun hostility.

4. Rethinking Employment Criteria

Numerous organizational luminaries champion power’s constructive use, fostering transparency and longevity. Selecting individuals to wield power necessitates adherence to Deborah’s “beneficial” principle—utilizing power for stakeholders’ welfare, while respecting employees’ and customers’ rights.

Shift focus from ambition to achievement orientation. Individuals driven by achievements, rather than power itself, are less prone to scandal.

Emphasize dedication over charisma. Genuine concern for others trumps superficial charm.

Prioritize maturity. Mature leaders prioritize societal well-being, shoulder responsibility, and temper emotions.

While malevolent power may persist, tolerating it is untenable. Strive for benevolent power, cognizant of its inherent complexities. Embrace empathy, altruism, and responsibility—a testament to trust-based, enduring power.

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