Power Dynamics: Why they Matter and How to Play the Game (Part 1)

Power affects all seen and unseen facets of life, yet we often do not think about how power gets allocated among groups and individuals. Further, the question of how to properly gain more power looms. 

As children we start with no power, and gradually accumulate more as we become adults. If you have lived to at least adulthood, you have engaged in power. At various times, we have all been aggressors, leaders, victims, and followers.

What we choose to do, especially when we have power over others impacts our life journey and ultimately, our destinations. Power can be earned in righteous and unrighteous ways but the eternal truth remains:

With great power, comes great responsibility.

How People Interact with Power

Different types of people interact with power based on their interests and desires. Some gravitate toward power and some shy away for a variety of reasons. Others are busy living and are not thinking about the role power plays in their lives.

Whether or not we are aware, the game of power affects our relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and it manifests in the outcomes we experience in life. 

Below are 3 broad attitudes that people from all walks of life exhibit towards power.

1. The Power Amassers

Some people intentionally set out to accumulate power. Business leaders and politicians are two obvious examples. They either convince or coerce others into giving them resources either legally or illegally. This can be done honorably or dishonorably. 

Less obvious examples would include an employee who is seeking more supervisory responsibility in their career progression, a parent who seeks greater influence over their child, or any situation in which someone we know may benefit from our influence and we feel a duty to help them from hurting themself.

Morally responsible actors have a duty to ensure that their words and actions are leading to a better experience for all who are affected. Society is always in need of more morally astute leaders who understand power dynamics and engage with them appropriately.

When a leader sets an example and followers come forward to voluntarily and willingly seek their guidance, the power is more than a mere authoritative rule. Under these circumstances, authority is not even necessary. Influence tends to be more sustainable than purely structural authority.

For most people, influencing others is the most relevant form of power in their daily lives.

2. The Retreatists

Some folks may convince themselves that there is nobility in an intentional avoidance of power dynamics. It is hard to blame them, considering how stressful power can be, especially when they have become disaffected from previous attempts to achieve power. 

They may say or imply that power hungry people are the problem with the world. They may say that power, money, or politics is the “root of all evil.” Ever heard anyone say this? They are attempting to justify their retreat from the game of power. This group is not wrong, however they are only half-right. 

Who knows, their apathy may be a bigger “root of evil” since it allows bad actors who are more motivated to get ahead. Luckily, we do not need to settle for morally suspect tactics in our quest for power. 

Retreating from power dynamics is no solution, especially when you can choose to engage honorably.

3. The Laypeople

“For if you spread good, all around you’ll be able to sleep when the sun goes down.”

– A spiritually astute Sam Cooke, from his song, Keep Movin’ On.

Most people, of course, are somewhat normal and do not obsess about things like power in their daily lives. They also likely do not read articles like this one, so whatever that may say about you is something you will have to figure out.

Those who do not consciously think about the web of power dynamics in daily life probably represent the overwhelming majority of people. These are our friends, neighbors, and others who simply want a better life for themselves, their children, and families.

The layperson should generally accumulate power, but it is important to tailor the power accumulation to their desired outcome. This group should recognize that their power is measured by how much people in their circle respect them and want to follow their lead.

This is leadership and it is the most potent form of power and it is won through influence.

Virtue is Better than Raw Power

Influence is the kind of power we should all strive to accumulate. It is magnetic and contagious. Although we must understand that we can never be perfect. Just by striving to positively uplift others, we achieve a reputation and the trust we instill in others builds upon itself over time much like a financial investment would.

Leaders know that instead of figuring out where to point the finger, a better approach is to find a way to serve others.

When we act with integrity, virtue, and consistency, we naturally gain credibility and influence others.

*Stay tuned for part two in the next post for observations about tactical ways to accumulate power.

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