Life, Leadership, Politics, and Power

Leadership 01The ideas of leadership, politics, and power are closely related. In fact, it is hard to discuss any one of these topics without including the others.

In order to lay the groundwork, I would like you to envision a three-circle Venn diagram (see the included image at the bottom of this blog). Each circle represents one of the individual disciplines listed above. For the sake of making sense of the diagram, we will label A as “leadership”, B as “politics”, and C as “power”.  Each circle is able to stand complete on it’s own. However, we note that there is also a measure of shared overlap and interplay between the circles. In the middle is an area in which all 3 areas combine to share one common element. This is the place where leadership, politics, and power combine together to result in their greatest measure of influence and impact. 

We should note that while these three disciplines have certain contrasts; it is the shared elements that bare the greatest influence on our thinking. All three share a common ground as it relates to the “end-game.” Leadership, politics, and power all work both independently and collectively for the purpose of promoting and securing a plan of action. In some instances, that purpose can be very self-centered, such as a person manipulating office interests for their own promotion. In other instances, the purpose can be much more inclusive as when an individual seeks to influence a group toward a common goal.

Any discussion of leadership should include a conversation of the 3 Fs: facets, formulas, and future. Leadership is comprised of many facets.  For example, leadership can be best understood by words like vision, managed meanings, and responsibility. Each of these items plays a significant part in the formation of leadership. A leader is a visionary, one who can imagine “a possible future that people can move towards.” A leader recognizes that people interpret events and information differently; therefore, they understand the importance of managing the meanings of those interpretations and using them to influence that person’s view of what is in their own interest. A leader knows that leadership does not take place in a moral vacuum. Leaders are responsible both for their decisions and to the people that follow them. Each of these facets (and others like empowerment, transformations, and charisma) collaborate to form the core of effective leadership in the world today.

In this light, it is important to note the second F of leadership: formula. There is not set formula for leadership. Too often we try to devise a checklist of “necessary traits” that will define a good leader. We think that if a person can acquire each of these individual items, they will be a good leader. The reality is that effective leadership is complex and hard to define. Each of the previously mentioned facets can play a part but they might not necessarily be present in the life and style of a good leader. Accordingly, the formula for a good leader can be as different as the various leaders themselves.

It is impossible to understand leadership without mentioning the future. Good leadership looks beyond today and accounts for tomorrow. It seeks to “make something happen which was not going to happen otherwise.” Good leaders see beyond “what is” to “what can be.” They envision possibilities for improvement, gain, and benefit and they are able to influence people toward that goal. Too many people fail in leadership because they are limited in their sight. They see only the present. They understand only the here and now. The effective leader understands the importance of the future and is able to move people toward a new horizon that benefits everyone.

The area of politics can similarly be understood with the use of another letter: I. Politics revolves around the 3 ideas of influence, information, and interests. People employ their influence to seek a particular end. The use of information is a common tool in the political games found in most businesses. And all too often it is self-interest that is at the root of most political objectives. In some regards, politics shares a certain measure of overlap with leadership. Certainly, a good politician will possess some of the characteristics of a good leader. The primary difference, however, often rests in the issue of style. While leadership focuses on consensus, politics focuses on control and the ability to manipulate others for personal gain. Oftentimes, politics are employed to garner positions of power and promotion. Sadly, these individual gains often come at the expense of the larger group.

The final area of this discussion focuses on power. We will discuss power with the help of the letter P: punishment, power, and promotion. Power is used as a tool of influence; whereby, a person can either punish or reward those under their influence. In either case, the goal is to employ power as a means of determining who gets what, when and how. Much like politics, people use power as a means of promotion. Sometimes it is used for self-promotion but at other times it can be used positively for the promotion of an idea that will benefit everyone. In this way, power is understood as a “tool” for the good leader, one that can be used to further their vision for the future.

In closing I would like to turn our attention to the area of “music as muse.” I chose the song “We Can Work It Out” by The Beatles as my inspiration for this topic. This song emphasizes the importance of communication as a tool for reaching consensus and reconciliation.

Think of what you’re saying, You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright, Think of what I’m saying, We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night, We can work it out

Consensus and common ground should be at the core of good leadership, politics, and power. Rather than serving our own self-interest, we should use our influence to move people both individually and corporately to a common idea of mutual benefit. This can only happen in an environment that fosters free communication, the willingness to listen to and learn from differing views, and the commitment to “work it out” in the end.

Ven Diagram