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I have been thinking about the subject of power this week a lot. Last week, at a workshop, I talked about power. Here is the gist of what I quoted referring to the work of Kenneth E. Boulding in The Three Faces of Power. Now deceased, Boulding was an English economist who was also a Quaker. He retired from teaching at the University of Colorado.

Simply put, there are three kinds of power– “power over,” “power to” and “power with.”

“Power over” is the ability to dominate another person or group–as in “I have power over him.” This means, “I have the ability to make him do what I want him to do.” Power over usually comes from force and threat. If the subordinate fails to do what he or she is asked to do, the dominant person will use force to make the subordinate person comply. “Power over” is considered equivalent to “threat power” and is particularly important in political life.

“Power to” is the ability to do something on one’s own–it refers to one’s abilities. Sources of this kind of power are intellect, resources, knowledge, stamina, etc. These resources give some people the power to accomplish things that others cannot. Often, this creates economic power, which derives from the power to produce and exchange goods and depends on the changing distribution of property ownership. Sometimes “Power over” can interfere with “Power to.” That is not a good thing. This is where racism, sexism, ableism, etc. come in.

“Power with” is similar to “power to” in that it reflects ability, but “power with” is the ability to work with others to get something done by cooperation. This is the power of consensus–the power of people working together to solve a common problem. This power is integrative and rests on relationships such as love, legitimacy, respect, affection, community and identity. This is the structure of bonds, of respect, of legitimacy that holds social groups and whole societies/communities together.

Integrative power underlies persuasion–people can be persuaded to change their minds or behavior if a convincing argument can be made that corresponds with the belief system of the opponent (or changes that belief system through love or respect).

How you use your power is habitual. My challenge to you is to use your power in an integrative way to build something greater than yourself.

My question to you as a leader is how is power showing up in your life? I am curious: Are you aware of your integrative power? Your power over? Or your power within?

Please share!


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