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The dynamics of power

In the corporate world, the dynamics of power are often similar to those of the political world.

In the corporate world, the dynamics of power are often similar to those of the political world.

We have all had to deal with the paradox of power at some stage in our lives. Power comes in many forms. Even cute newborns soon learn how to get what they want by crying incessantly.

In the corporate world, some employees suck up to their bosses through flattery to gain promotions or a generous pay increase. When such people then become bosses themselves, they often behave like pocket tyrants and bully their subordinates as a form of compensating for their obnoxious behaviour.

Some business schools are now introducing modules in their courses to help students understand how to manage office politics. Of course, office politics is a misnomer as politics exist not only in offices but also in all other workplaces. Whether you like it or not, office politics is a fact of life in any organisation. The bigger the organisation, the more sophisticated are the dynamics of office politics.

Office politics are the strategies that people play to gain an advantage personally or for a cause they support. This term often has negative connotations since office politics can include bullying, sexual harassment, nepotism, cronyism, and even perverse networking to gain an unfair advantage over colleagues.

The majority of people prefer to keep their heads well below the partisan political parapet. They just want to get on with their lives and not depend on inflated egos of political leaders who hypocritically like to think of themselves as the benefactors of society. Power comes from leadership positions, from fame, or from the ability to communicate through mellifluous rhetoric with those who can get you elected to important posts.

There are, of course, many leaders both in the corporate and political sphere who have used their authority to bring about positive change in people’s lives. At a time when social politicians have become a rare breed, I cannot but admire the commitment of politicians like Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in Germany and H. H. Asquith and David Lloyd George in the UK who laid the foundations of the welfare state in Europe.

Many struggle to identify any living politicians in the Western world who have used their power when in government to bring about significant positive change in people’s lives.

Good leaders need to surround themselves with mentors or trusted advisers who dare to call a spade a spade

Today’s political classes in the US and Europe often seem to be more interested in first building their power base by networking down with the electorate. Then, when they manage to reach the top, they hobnob with the rich and mighty as they crave admiration and bask in hubris and overconfidence.

It is often said that the highest virtue of our democratic system of government is the ability of the majority to send ineffective politicians back to their jobs before they gained power. It is so true that if you want to test a man, give that man some power. How often have people believed in budding politicians because they said all the right things when they had no power, only to show their true colours when elected to govern?

In the corporate world, the dynamics of power are often similar to those of the political world. The only difference is that bad business leaders are soon cut to size not through a democratic process, but through the crude forces of competition. It has been said that the paradox of power is that the very traits that helped the leaders build their influence, like being humble, courteous, polite and honest become temperamental, impulsive, reckless, insensitive and rude. Haven’t we all experienced this personality meta­morphosis in some of our leaders?

Business schools are giving much more importance to corporate governance then they ever did in the last five decades. Whether in business or public administration we need leaders to have the courage to do what is right for their organisation and society and not merely avoid breaking the law.

Good leaders need to surround themselves with mentors or trusted advisers who dare to call a spade a spade. In a world where we are continuously bombarded with endearing messages from business and political leaders, we need to discover the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Money, power and fame change most people. The leaders we elect are just stewards of power, not owners. We need to identify those who truly deserve our respect for the way they serve society. These are the people who last and leave a legacy that makes the world a better place.

Undoubtedly, power is precious but also precarious.

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