Sunday, November 7, 2010

The scale of Power

Translation from "L'échelle du pouvoir"

"Power", supreme goal, object of fantasy! To have power is to dominate the others, to dominate the world, to make a sense of his own life instead of undergoing a prescribed sense...

In its pure state, power is the exercise of this authority that legitimacy gives to the man in power and which bows before him the head of subordinates: they will accept his decisions and obey his orders.

Power encompasses however different levels corresponding to various functions: distinguishing the powers of appointment, management and orientation will help to diagnose the behavior of a person in power.

Appointment Power

One first form of power lies in the delegation of plots of legitimacy. The one who can appoint the officers, distribute roles and places, is like a lord to whom vassals swear loyalty.

The French president appoints ministers, prefects, heads of departments, directors of nationalized firms - and also, indirectly, of private companies in which the state has an influence. He spreads stars on the shoulders of the military. Political power has often been reduced to this appointment power: reading Les Rougon-Macquart or Lucien Leuwen, we see that it condescended in France's nineteenth century to the allocation of tobacco shops.

In a company, the CEO appoints executives and they choose, among the managers, those whose career will advance: the power of appointment ramifies like a tree.

Dreams and ambitions revolve around the one who holds this power, one speaks to him with the falsetto voice caused by a tightening of the throat. The wives of the ambitious, if beautiful, offer themselves sometimes to him to further the career of their husbands: the women of Fascist dignitaries subjected Mussolini to sexual overwork.

Management Power

Management power is to "run the business" under existing procedures and structures. It is the power of the Secretary General of an agency, of operational managers and, sometimes, of the assistant of the CEO. It consists in ensuring a smooth process, monitoring indicators and, if necessary, initiating corrective action.

The proper functioning of the institution depends on how that power is exercised. Someone whose function is to "put oil in the wheels" may also, if he wants, put sand in order to block them. Being in a position to promote or block a hiring, a command, he can also get in the delicious (and profitable) trading of mutual services.

Orientation Power

Any institution (business, public service, government) runs a mission embodied in the positioning that defines the skills it employs, the techniques it uses, the products it develops, the customer segments it serves and the quality of service.

The definition of positioning requires that the institution selects and express an orientation and these selection and expression are the responsibility of the leader (President, Minister, Director, CEO etc.). He will say, for example, if the purpose of a business is to "create value for shareholders" or to "eliminate competition", to "satisfy and retain customers," to "be a leader on the world market", to "innovate" and so on.

The orientation is manifested by the words the leader addresses to the institution (they "make sense"), by the way he arbitrates between the projects provided by the different directions as well as by his daily decisions, whose persistent accumulation determines over time the positioning of the institution.

Orientation power is the most prominent and most effective form of power. It builds the foundation of legitimacy: if not oriented, every institution, every nation will indeed go astray.

Abuse of power

The man in power is well positioned to take personal advantage of his position. To dominate other people, to make them bend to his whim and to arbitrary and even absurd decisions, all this can give him a sensual pleasure.

He can also take advantage of his power to enrich oneself. Even if they comply with legal forms, the extravagant executive compensations which seem to be the norm today are in fact a predation: their amount correspond to a transfer of wealth rather than to a remuneration.

Relationship between the powers

The mission of a leader consists entirely in the orientation power, in relation to which management and appointment powers are only useful tools.

Sometimes a leader cannot or doesn't know how to exercise the orientation power. Then he retreats to the minutiae of management power or, worse, to the sole appointment power: while he does not fulfill his mission, he can remain important.

Distinguishing these three powers helps to evaluate the action of a leader. Does he give orientations? Are they firm or versatile? Are they embodied in practice, structures and procedures, or are they only loud voices that make air vibrate?

If the leader is not able of orienting, does he occupy his time with management? Or with appointments only?

Appointment power, before which so many people make the bow, can provide lively pleasures: it is perhaps for keeping the party going that Nicolas Sarkozy takes such a long time to nominate the prime minister.

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