The dictionary definition of power is “the capacity or the ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.” We use phrases like economic power, political power, balance of power, the powers that be, in power and out of power. Yet, more important than any of these are two other phrases whose prepositions make all the difference: Power Over people and Power With people.
In our last article we looked at the characteristics of Power Over. Brene’ Brown makes a wise and compelling observation about Power Over when she says, “The phrase Power Over is typically enough to send chills down spines: When someone holds power over us, the human spirit’s instinct is to rise, resist and rebel. As a construct it feels wrong; in the wider geopolitical context it can mean death and despotism.” Yet, it is still the preferred leadership structure in politics, business, and religion. In this article we will unpack a better way – Power With.
What Is Power With?
Power With is less common but can be more powerful than Power Over. The concept of Power With, is the opposite of Power Over. In its simplest form it is about treating others justly and with respect, honoring and valuing their strengths, and being willing to learn from them.
Power With is characterized by two primary behaviors – it is both relational and collective/collaborative. It creates new possibilities from the very differences in strengths, experiences, and opinions that exist in any group. Unlike Power Over behaviors of force, coercion and control, which must be continually reinforced to sustain itself, Power With leadership grows stronger the more it is put to use. Power With is characterized by collective collaboration, or in today’s vernacular, stakeholder engagement. Power With leaders believe that no one person or one group should be in a position to know what is best for another.
Mary Parker Follett , known as the Mother of Modern ManagementPoe, was a pioneer in the fields of organizational theory and behavior. She understood Power With leadership as bringing forth a collective will that could generate innovation and overcome obstacles through shared purpose. For this to happen, power had to be shifted from one-sided influence to circular ones based on relationship. As each person, group, or nation sought to influence the other, it in turn was subject to influence. Her belief was that Power With leaders do not command obedience through force or manipulation, but rather by giving expression to external realities and the interior aspirations of others. She wrote, “The skillful leader does not rely on personal force; he/she leads their group not by dominating, but by expressing it. They stimulate what is best in us. The person who influences me most is not the one who does great deeds, but who makes me feel I can do great deeds. Whoever has struck fire out of me, aroused me to action which I should not otherwise have taken, they have been my leader.”
How Power Over Can Be Diminished
The typical relationship that a Pastor or Ministry Manager has with staff, lay leaders and members of their congregation inevitably creates a Power Over relationship. Jesus seems to recognize that it is either/or – it is either a world of domination or it’s a world of love. Being a pragmatist I have accepted that Power Over structures in the church aren’t going away any time soon. I find though that the following actions and behaviors of a Pastor/Ministry Manager can create an appropriate balance between Power Over and Power With leadership, and more importantly, is the more near the way of love than the way of domination.
- Consulting and listening to their opinions without imposing your views
- Seeking to recognize and mobilize employees’ and members’ strengths and capabilities
- Valuing employees’ and members’ aspirations and goals
- Creating a context of discovery, improvising, and trying new things
- Relying on a collaborative team approach where responsibility is shared
- Enabling goals, processes, boundaries, strategies, and outcomes to be determined in partnership
In the end it is how we go about treating our people right and getting the best out of our people so the mission of the church can be furthered. With those outcomes in mind, a Power With approach is worthy of consideration for any Pastor or Ministry Manager who desires to effectively lead people.
Posted on October 5, 2021