Sharing the power
Blog posted by: Rick Henderson, Wednesday, 12 September 2018.
Power is the ability to change things, to exert influence and shape the world around us.
It’s said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts, absolutely. So, if power is such a destructive, corruptive force, why do so many people crave it? In fact, power is a fairly abstract concept, referring primarily to the ability to control one’s environment or the people within it. Power is the ability to change things, to exert influence and shape the world around us.
As a CEO, I have power not just over my organisation and the people within it but also the wider world: Homeless Link members, policymakers and politicians and the public. My power is in the form of influence and thought-leadership, as well as the power to make one decision rather than another, to direct resources and people to engage in particular activities that are most likely to achieve the results we desire. These are examples of using power for good.
It’s also said that with great power comes great responsibility and this is absolutely true. I am accountable for the decisions I make and the way in which I use my power. I have colleagues, friends and Trustees who will be quick to point out if I overstep the mark – luckily that rarely happens!
But we all know there is a darker side to power and we can all think of examples of people or agencies that have wielded power like a weapon. This is the power to make decisions about other people without consulting them; the power to exclude people or withdraw vital support; and the power to oppress, bully or intimidate. One would hope that in our line of work – supporting people out of homelessness – there would be no place for this kind of dark power. Yet speaking to people with direct experience of homelessness throws up countless tales of the abuse of power and the resulting disempowerment that many of our clients face. Little wonder that people mistrust or withdraw from services when this is such a commonplace experience.
One important safeguard against this kind of misuse of power is to take steps to share power with those around us. Co-production is an example of power sharing, as are partnerships with other agencies, cross-sector collaborations and joint commissioning. By sharing power we reduce the risk of any one person or agency becoming too powerful. And we increase the probability that people will feel the genuine benefits that power can bring – the power to change lives and ultimately, the world.
Our leadership summit this November will tackle the issue of power and consider what it takes to be a successful leader in a complex world. I hope you can join me at this event.
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