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Power Trips

August 26, 2010

Great article in Wall Street Journal this past week about the Abuse of Power by Jonah Lehrer. He starts off saying …

[power1]” When CEO Mark Hurd resigned from Hewlett-Packard last week in light of ethics violations, many people expressed surprise. Mr. Hurd, after all, was known as an unusually effective and straight-laced executive. But the public shouldn’t have been so shocked. From prostitution scandals to corruption allegations to the steady drumbeat of charges against corporate executives and world-class athletes, it seems that the headlines are filled with the latest misstep of someone in a position of power.
This isn’t just anecdotal: Surveys of organizations find that the vast majority of rude and inappropriate behaviors, such as the shouting of profanities, come from the offices of those with the most authority.
Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude. In some cases, these new habits can help a leader be more decisive and single-minded, or more likely to make choices that will be profitable regardless of their popularity. One recent study found that overconfident CEOs were more likely to pursue innovation and take their companies in new technological directions. Unchecked, however, these instincts can lead to a big fall.”
The key to this article is a question for everyone in the marketplace – which actually can be a place of common ground for leaders in any organization whether or not they are Christian, athiests, or agnostics – What is the “check” in “unchecked.”

For the most part (except for the most deluded) everyone can acknowledge that they have bad days and (as the Apostle Paul once said) do that which they hate, the things that are part of our “old man”, dark side – some might even dare say sin – which creeps up on us.

How do you deal with it?  For me the answer lies in the idea of repentance.

In repentance we acknowledge “the check” in unchecked.  I am not master of my own destiny (an influencer perhaps.) I am prone to sin and error; I need a good team around me; and I am not an island.   I am capable of mistakes, and I am also capable of owning them and (with God’s help) turning from them to not be owned by them.   Unfortunately power unchecked is rarely accompanied by humility.   Acknowledging mistakes and awareness of the ability to make them are the very thing which can build community and authority, to put group consensus and appropriate respect back into the ranks of the powerful.

Mark Hurd probably wishes he hadn’t been so arrogant that he couldn’t have admitted his mistakes earlier.  I’m almost sure from the circumstances that have played out publicly that he lacked a community that kept him accountable, and the internal drive (from an external Force) that is necessary to admit one’s mistakes before it is too late.

For more on the issues that this contemporary example brings up take a look at the following Moment of Truths in Professionals: Men and Women Partnering with the Trinity in Everyday Life. # 14 The Paradox of Servant Leadership, #18 Communicate with Integrity, #19 Sex sells but what have we bought, and #27 Go Natural.

Blessings on your day!  May you be given the Power to repent deeply.

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