We – you and I, gentle reader – are imperfect human beings. Because we are imperfect we will choose to use our power in both healthy and in unhealthy ways; we will use our power in nurturing ways and in depleting ways. Thus, it is crucial that each of us is awake and aware as to when and why we choose to use one of the four forms of power that follow. In choosing to exercise our power we also choose to be responsible and accountable. Here are the four types of power that I invite us to consider this morning:
Coercive Power = imposing one’s will on the other(s). In order to coerce, one must have a certain type of leverage over the other(s). This leverage comes in many forms. For example, I have the power to fire you; I have the power to ‘grade you’ – and this ‘grade’ will impact you directly and indirectly. I have the power to punish you – and there is little you can do about it if I choose to do so.
Manipulative Power = Greenleaf suggests that we manipulate others when we ‘guide others by plausible rationalizations into beliefs and actions that they do not fully understand [some, he notes, will not take the effort to understand]. A common manipulation we all know, perhaps only too well, is: ‘Just trust me!’
Persuasive Power = one convinces the other(s) through use of logic and reason. There is a give-and-take that occurs here that does not occur with either Coercive or Manipulative Power.
Influential Power = [Greenleaf calls this ‘Persuasive Power] This does not allow for either coercion or manipulation and moves persuasion from advocacy to inquiry and from using logic and reason to inviting ‘this is where I choose to stand.’ The autonomy and integrity of all is held in trust by all. This process usually takes a great deal of time, energy and effort. All grow as a result of the process.
Influential Power requires that a person be ‘fully human,’ that he or she be aware of who he/she is and is choosing to become,’ ‘understands the assumptions, beliefs, values and principles that guide his or her life,’ and it requires one ‘to be vulnerable’ – to be transparent and to ‘carry the wound with grace.’
A Reflective Exercise. I invite you, gentle reader, to engage the following reflective exercise.
• What motivates you to choose NOT TO USE your power?
• What motivates you to use your power unethically (we all, at times, choose to do so)?
• What motivates you to use your power ethically?
• What is there within a given institution that affects how people choose to use their power?
• What is your ‘power default’ – when the pressure is on do you default to coercion, manipulation, persuasion or influence?
• When do you choose to coerce, manipulate, persuade or influence? Why – what ingredients need to be in place for you to choose one over the other?
I leave us with the following words from the great German Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: I would like finally to advise you to grow through your development quietly and seriously. . .you can interrupt it in no more violent manner than by looking outwards and expecting answers from outside to questions which only your inner most feelings in your most silent hour can answer.