Power With versus Power Over

About a week ago, I was finally reading the June 2011 of Associations Now (it accidentally got buried in the pile of unread magazines), and I read the Favorites Game piece with Jeffrey Pfeffer. My first thought was that his suggestions reminded me at bit of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (you can take the girl out of grad school, but…). And I was hoping that, like The Prince, it was intended as satire. Hey, they both stress the importance of flattery, right?

But somehow, I don’t think Pfeffer is being funny.

My second thought was that he was articulating the concept of “power over” very clearly. But there’s also a concept called “power with.” It features heavily in progressive movements like feminism, the green movement and many earth-based religions.

So what’s the difference?

Power OVER is about scarcity, rules, procedures, compliance, competition, rewards and threats, hoarding information, assigning blame, fear and skepticism, exclusion, silos, and control.

Power WITH is about abundance, principles, mission, commitment, creativity, focusing on what’s going right, sharing, being open, trust and confidence, inclusion, working together, questioning, inspiring and clarity.

As I’m sure you recognize, traditional hierarchical organizations rely on power over. And I suspect that’s where most of our associations fall. But they don’t have to.

In fact, forward-looking organizations need 21st century leaders. A quick Google search on that term returns things like: communicators, good social skills, open, transparent, authentic, team players/team success, influence instead of authority, non-traditional, accepting of diversity, creativity, innovation, intuition, bias towards action, energy and enthusiasm.

Which of the above two power models seems like a better match for the realities of *today’s* work place? Looking at the lists above, where would you rather work?

How do we get from here to there? It comes down to each and every one of us honestly assessing ourselves and, each day, choosing to walk the talk of power with rather than power over. You’re not going to completely transform your organizational culture over night. But you can lead, even from the middle, by example. Not everyone will get it. Not everyone will come with you. But we have to start transforming the culture of work somewhere.

I’m going – will you come with me?

(Jamie Notter has a terrific take on this topic in his blog post Love and Power – go check it out! )