Greenleaf writes: I have no definite view of power to offer… I grant that in an imperfect world, some raw use of power will always be with us. But as ours has become a huge, complex, institution-bound society, power seems more of an issue than it was in simpler times when it was easier to identify where coercive pressures came from.
Also within the past 200 years, the damage to power wielders has been clearly signaled… William Pitt in 1770: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it;” and, then in the late 19th century, Lord Acton’s more quoted line, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
…And what is the corruption that both Pitt and Acton might have had in mind? I believe it is arrogance, and all of the disabilities that follow in the wake of arrogance.
Arrogance = an offensive display of self-importance rooted in overbearing pride; hubris.
I am reminded of the first lesson – of the four lessons of history: Whom the gods will destroy, they first make mad with power.
Consider that a leader is tempted to become arrogant when a necessary balance is removed. The necessary balance involves a balance between ‘support and accountability.’ A leader is tempted to become arrogant when ‘accountability’ is minimized or removed – when the leader is always supported (think: ‘yes’ people surrounding the leader). Who is charged with holding the leader accountable? Who has the courage to do so? How does a leader create the safe environment necessary for the other(s) to hold the leader accountable? How does the leader help the other(s) develop the capacity to hold the leader accountable? How does the leader develop his or her own capacity to be willing to be held accountable by the other(s)? What are the agreements that must be in place in order for the other(s) to hold the leader accountable and for the leader to accept being held accountable by the other(s)?
What are the beliefs, values, assumptions, disciplines and attitudes that the leader must integrate in order to be open to being held accountable by the other(s)? What are the beliefs, values, assumptions, disciplines and attitudes that the other(s) must hold in order to hold the leader accountable? ‘Good people’ – whether the leader or the other(s) – do not hold one another accountable simply because they are ‘good people.’
In what ways does the leader hold the other(s) accountable for ‘holding the leader accountable’? Who defines the ‘what’ as in: ‘What must the leader be held accountable for?’ Who defines the ‘accountability-process’ that must be implemented in order to ensure that the leader is, indeed, being accountable?
In one sense ‘Power’ is easy to define: ‘Power is one’s ability to act’ (unabridged dictionary’s first definition). However the definition becomes a bit more complex is we seek to define ‘Ethical Power.’ Consider this definition: ‘Ethical Power is one’s ability to act rooted in moral reflection.’ So, will a leader seek to be held accountable or will the leader seek to be held to be ‘ethically and morally accountable’?
How many leaders are willing to spend the time, energy and resources in order to respond to these – and other – questions? How many leaders actually invite others to help them reflectively respond to these – and other – questions?