The Fear of Losing Power

As business leaders are often driven by quarterly results and share prices, politicians are often led by votes and opinion polls. Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who last week was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington D.C., is a rare exception. Her famous quote “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts that who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it” really stuck out to me. What an amazing truth and one that can be supported with tons of political examples, however I will leave that for another time.

The idea “It is not power but the fear of losing it” is also greatly applicable to any business. Over the past years, we have heard growing examples of business leaders succumbing to the pressure of short-term results rather than holding on to what is right for the company, its people, its shareholders, its customers and the communities they operate in. From financial scandals that revealed that some banks focused on astronomically increasing their own wealth and duping their own customers, to Pharma companies that pushed doctors to use drugs that were not originally intended nor tested for. The most recent example was seen when a manufacturing company ignored its safety standards, killing 258 workers in a blistering blaze.

Everywhere the combined desire of ‘getting things as quickly, cheaply and with as little hardship possible’ (with the fear of losing power) drives people to take short term decisions with little consideration of what it means for the long run. And you can’t always blame them: Football managers are being sacked after losing only 5 matches, CEO’s are fired after 4 quarters of disappointing results, political leaders are being sent home after a decision that positively impacts significant job growth for the country, leads to few job losses in their own constituency. The pressure is on! Everywhere it is about getting results fast and cheap because of the misguided belief that if we don’t get them now we can lose the opportunity to get them tomorrow.

It is human nature to sometimes take shortcuts in life, but the question is where to draw the line. When are you just taking a quick route and when are your decisions affecting long term results?

– Paul Keijzer

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4 thoughts on “The Fear of Losing Power

  1. Dear Paul, unfortunately the haste to give results on quarterly basis emerged from US corporate culture and on advice of consutants like Mckenzzie were pushed to conservative companies that believed in longer term achievements than immediate results. The leaders thus brought up only were selfish and only looked what was under their nose and and not at longer term sustainability of companies. The local and other companies followed suite…
    As for Maynamar, that is part of Western politics whether doling out laurels for peace etc as Nobel prize or showering praises on individuals who tag their beliefs for global influences…
    Bottom line is what is fit in one part of society may not neccessarrily be workable in thirld world countries as they offer their own set of culture, social values and work environments..

  2. Very true, Paul. I believe our own values serve as an internal compass to draw the line.. as long as those values are human centric, our actions will follow the same course of pleasure and harmony with others.

    I believe this fear is all about insecurities about future, trusting others to take the lead and having faith that everybody has his/her own playing field where one needs to challenge one’s own self and stop comparing with others (not to mention healthy comparison with positive outlook is always good). I think if we start thinking about our internal value system linking it with what we want to leave behind as our legacy in this world then it would change our perspective towards life and help us to be better humans and professionals. We see all the materialistic world shouting out loud at us every day as if everything is going to end today so its better to gain today than wait for tomorrow… which is a complete disconnect with what the spiritual or religious teachings teach us .. pick any religion and we will find the message of peace and how to create harmony with other beings without being brutal or insecure. If we start focusing on ourselves and improving (which is again a very challenging project for life time..lolz) then we would know that real power lies with power sharing and helping each other; companies can also survive for decades if they are strongly connected with their core values of the same concept of serving humanity/societies (and not just making money..)
    Happy souls.. happy world!!

  3. Your point about short termism is well taken. Yes, it puts all sorts of unhealthy pressure on everyone but there is another issue that is even more serious related to the flexible labor market, which has given us short-tenure employment. I am suggesting that the power has already shifted.

    With the relationship between knowledge and power intimately linked, the corporate body has, quite deliberately and entirely unwittingly, allowed its command to be displaced, challenging flexible working’s critics. No longer are individuals an aggregate part of an established institution. Individuals are the institution for as long as they remain in situ. Then, when the face changes, as it is doing on average every four or five years in many developed economies, the institution changes, or more accurately, tries to change, bereft of its continuity and at the mercy of new brooms. Ordered evolution has become a shapeless revolution with little regard for the one corporate asset that represents the organization’s life form – its institution-specific knowledge and experience. It presages a mercurial world, with such things as corporate culture, ethos, values, and tried-and-tested usage struggling to maintain an even keel.

    Having chosen to operate in isolation to its own hard-won and expensively acquired experience, the motor of much of Western society’s wealth machine has largely disempowered itself. I am not suggesting that the flexible labor market should be abandoned as a workplace strategy; it has some extremely valuable features. I only suggest that the better management of OM and use of proper Experiential Learning will help to counterbalance the evident institutional disenfranchisement. See http://biggernumbers.wordpress.com

  4. I feel, the capacity to see growth as well as long-term sustainable growth, requires patience. (Desi) people in general lack patience and also persistence. The reasons are deep rooted in the social dynamics and so difficult to fish out completely, but what I fee can be a cure to this problem is to create a band-wagon of success for them to be lured with!

    The behaviors in trends and fashions share a lot with how our people think – They get absolutely and obsessively interested in a thing for a time and keep a watch on who is appreciating them for their choices, when with time they observe that not many are observing and they have dropped off the radar of fame, they eagerly look for something new and exciting to grab on to (without any willful deliberation), meaning they just jump at it!

    I feel that is how our management professionals behave too, they are every eager for fame and fortune at the quickest and at the least level of commitment.
    The evergreen and through (time tested) concepts of perseverance, patience, vision and capacity are mostly overlooked,

    If we can find a way to address this ill, we can change a lot progressively and generate massive value as a whole for the people and companies.

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