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Power Over vs. Power With

“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben (from Spiderman)

I’m fairly certain that by now we’ve all either witnessed or experienced really bad leadership by people in positions of power. We see what it does, how it manifests, how it makes us feel, and perhaps how pervasive it is in many of the structures of contemporary life. We see this in boardrooms, organizations, governments, religious institutions, politics, media outlets, and Hollywood. Private or public sector, personal or professional life: If there is an assumed hierarchy, and even without one, there may be power plays and other forms of behavior that would not fall into the category of coming from “one’s best adult self.” How can we shift from lauding ‘power over,’ to a relational dynamic of being in ‘power with’?

If we don’t work on our stuff, our stuff will work on us, and all of the people and places around us become collateral damage. Our friend Parker Palmer demands of us: “If you choose to live an unexamined life, for God’s sake do not take a job that allows you to impose it on other people!” 

Perhaps, if we’re lucky, we’ll see it in ourselves as we walk by the mirror, and it will call us into the deepest work of creating real change. Some of the biggest acts of change begin close to home–in our own hearts. 

As John O’Donohue notes in the lines from his Blessing for One Who Holds Power, 

May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.
May you welcome your own vulnerability
As the ground where healing and truth join.
May integrity of soul be your first ideal,
The source that will guide and bless your work. 

Imagine if this was the guiding principle behind our leaders today? How might our leadership change if we took these words to heart? (How might your relationship to yourself, life itself, your relationships, your work, and your play change?) How would ourselves, our organizations, and our communities feel to be lead by a leader who has taken these words to heart? In what ways would this increase psychological safety, and the innovative benefits that cascade from that? 

These are the questions Dan Harris, weekend anchor for ABC’s Good Morning America, the author of 10% Happier, and co-founder of 10% Happier, the company,  and Jerry talked about a few weeks ago on stage at the Rubin Museum in New York. We’ve brought this conversation to you in this episode of the podcast. We hope it helps you recognize where and how power lives in your life, what responsibility is yours to undertake, and how you can employ an ethos of being ‘in power with.’ 


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