Doing Power Differently

Power: Germany is not the only country for which this is a difficult topic when looking back into the past. The memories are often negative. Power and ideas of hierarchy are sometimes seen as a means to an end — the end of getting what one wants, for example. Either that, or it is seen as power to act — perhaps power to act against the interests of others.


Inherent in every action that takes place within an organization are the aims of the parties involved, and the aspects of communication and power. Therefore, in a business context, power can be understood in terms of processes; but it is only through repeated actions that structures and assertiveness manifest, forming power structures: That is why it is not sensible to make power a taboo subject, or to put off dealing with the issue.


Leaders are equipped with formalized power, but informally, charisma, networks, knowledge, and self-confidence all have an effect of strengthening or reinforcing power. In addition to their claim to power, leaders also have the responsibility of consciously shaping and cultivating their behavior. Does it not therefore stand to reason that leaders should have a particularly high creative drive? After all, it is all about wielding power in a conscious and restrained manner, harnessing it to motivate and empower colleagues and team members.


In addition, leaders also have legal roles to perform. The performance of these roles may involve tasks that take a special form, for example, they may be required to take disciplinary actions in accordance with employment law, or they may be held liable for actions as the responsible body in a particular context. They are also creators of corporate culture because they live out and call upon others to live out standards, values, and beliefs, as well as ways of working and doing business.


There are good reasons for consciously developing positions of power and for shaping corporate culture, which should not only be anchored in good morals, but should also serve business purposes. Power should not be cloaked, but rather redistributed, in order to facilitate the creation of an agile company structure. The reason for this is not because it would be popular. It is because there are clear advantages to such an approach, and these advantages are key factors for the future viability of the organization. These advantages include an improved flow of information and an improved ability to solve problems. They also contribute to the gaining of new knowledge and to successful transformations, as well as to the realization of successful innovations.


We all know: Power can corrupt, so leaders should always reflect on the effects of their exercising of power. Let us not forget the words of Foucault: “Only those who can rule themselves can rule others.” That is why we must keep on trying to recognize the motives behind our own actions and the effects of those actions and to question them critically. In addition, we must help our employees to become responsible comrades-in-arms who work of their own accord as part of a team, learning how to deal with power and reacting confidently to the power of others.


Conclusion: We should pay more attention to anticipating abuses of power and to redistributing power where appropriate. We must therefore take on responsibility in a consistent manner — protecting our employees as well as ourselves — especially in order to secure the future success of our companies.

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