12.3 - Power Dynamics

Creative leadership journeys this week have taken a wonderful turn towards community involvement, unpacking one’s place within one’s community. Specific problems current in my journey involve many of the themes discussed thematically in the three blogs I am following. It still amazes me how opportunities seem to show up when I’m primed to notice them. 

Zen Habits begins by addressing the biggest problem facing me in my interpersonal relationships – uncertainty. My problems with social anxiety run high, leading me to nervous drink at networking events, rendering me useless when someone compliments my work, and hamstringing my attempts at learning how to collaborate with others in a more trusting way. Leo, in his post regarding uncertainty, identifies major ways we, collectively, handle uncertainty. He suggests that instead of indulging in the main habits we use to react to discomfort, we reach for the antidote of self awareness. By recognizing that we are feeling anxious, dealing with the uncertainty with curiosity, and diving in with the information at hand, we can arrive at the end of the fear with the knowledge that we have the ability to survive. Observation is key to the Zen Habits method. His suggestions direct us to choose something other than anxiety – to choose joy, and knowledge that we have it in us to master scary situations. 

CultureSync has a fresh new take on the Protestant work ethic in this post from 2014. In an interesting equation, the group observed that most trade religion for workplace culture sometime in their adult lives. Summaries divulged in this posting talk primarily about the culture fostered in church, and equates them to culture fostered in workplace communities, and how they can be one and the same.  They draw a conclusion – 25% of workplaces at Stage Four and Five – see themselves as tribes, where care of tribal members, and for the tribe itself, is key to competing on the business front. Business like these become places of spiritual expression – a collective expressing how we should live, what we want our lives to stand for, the people we care for, are increasingly answered at work. When values unite a group, at church or at work, you get a Stage Four tribe.

In this most current post from Neil Crofts unpacks power dynamics and sexuality in leadership and the workplace. A relevant topic to current events to all the assault allegations in political and leadership spheres, power dynamics is defined as power asymmetry, where one person has actual or apparent power or authority over others. He posits there is an absolute “dependency on the integrity of the dominant party” in negotiating these boundaries. By using Barry Oshry’s framework for social striation, Neil posits that very often “we give away our power when there is no need to and even when the dominant party does not want us to”, with a follow up, in that “there are very many people who act with complete integrity when they are in dominant positions” actively avoiding abusing said power. Personal authenticity, he claims, enables us to maintain our independence, be true to our values, and to raise concerns or to exit troubling situations. It is the onus of both the party “ruled” and the “ruler” to come to the table with authenticity to avoid situations of power dynamics.

I have to suspend suspicion in this context regarding the authors’ perspectives when applying these concepts to my own leadership journey. I am hyper aware that these authors of these thoughts are male, and perhaps in a position of privilege, writing about situations that they do not know much about. However, I have encountered situations where a victim feels that they were wronged, but the wronged feelings actually come from this lack of authenticity that Neil describes. In so few words – how can we expect others to care for us when we know absolutely nothing about caring for ourselves? It isn’t anyone else’s responsibility but our own to be stewards of our emotions, our situations, and our needs. Imagine feeling hungry, but saying nothing, and doing nothing, expecting others to know, magically, that you are hungry and in need! 

This being said, my own journey in knowing what I need is a tough one. I have empathy for this journey. The needs humans have are complex, such as leadership is complex. Leo’s suggestions regarding inner awareness are relevant to know when you are uncertain, and to figure out where that comes from. CultureSync’s thoughts on Stage Four workplace culture mirroring transcendent communities found only in the estate of religion and worship illustrates the possibilities to find joy in your place of work. It then follows, within these contexts, that power dynamics, needs, boundaries, and authenticity can also be something that can come within, leading to more fruitful relationships with others in the future.