28 Jan The Other Side of Absolute Power
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Sir John Dalberg-Acton
Timeless wisdom and arguably more true today than ever before – its symptoms manifest themselves everyday in the form of arrogance, condescension, and narcissism – and it has brought down countless leaders over the ages.
I invest a lot of time talking about three priorities that permeate great companies – and often disappear in organizations that struggle.
It’s an elegantly simple formula – and it begins with this time-tested premise:
Make your focus your employees and the business and the results will follow.
Make the business and the results your only priority and your employees won’t follow.
The biggest reason we lose sight of those cardinal points generally begins with the issue of absolute power – manifested in short-sided leaders who decide the greatest resource their company has to offer looks back at them in the mirror every morning.
A recipe for disaster.
What isn’t talked about as often and is the inevitable consequence of that mindset should be just as evident.
“Absolutely NO power also corrupts absolutely.”
The employee without a voice decides his or her voice no longer matters. The follower who no longer enjoys respect will not willingly offer it. The worker whose opinion is forever discounted ceases to care.
The early days of the industrial revolution created a model for leaders – in a book titled The Principles of Scientific Management Frederick Winslow Taylor offered the archetype for production floor workers and simple manual tasks. Taylor systemized work, restoring control totally with management – arguing at one point that “ one of the first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type.”
Taylor’s model was relevant in 1911 – it is archaic in 2018 – and yet there are misguided managers who still embrace the “herd of oxen” mentality in their leadership approach.
Why? See the absolute power quote above.
But in a highly complicated work environment where cognitive skills and intellectual muscle replaces the physical version, where synergies and collaboration are essential, and where the only path to success demands worker autonomy and purpose – the 1911 solution is destined for failure.
Daniel Pink speaks eloquently to the three keys to authentic worker motivation in his book, Drive – a recommended read for every person serous about their career – and regardless of whether their interest is in management. It points out how incredibly important autonomy, purpose, and mastery of our skill sets are in dictating our desires to succeed. And how limited the traditional “keep them in the dark, reward them if they perform, and then repeat the cycle” approach truly is.
A company that fails to recognize the power of employee engagement does more than lose exponential synergies – it creates the corruption that is the inevitable by-product of a work force that has no power.
It’s mired there – somewhere deep in our DNA and reflected in our history – man (and woman’s) insistence on freedom – desire to be heard.
Does absolute power corrupt? You better believe it does.
Only one thing corrupts more – absolutely no power.