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The Power Play

power play,bureaucrats,corrupts,corporate,mishandling
Rajit Nair

“Power corrupts” is the normal cliché we used to hear since school days. Definitely, power corrupts or erodes when vested in the hands of unqualified or immature minds. Before vesting power, the person should be treated the way a diamond is polished. He should be mentally and spiritually ‘enlightened’ before receiving power.

This is why in a professional environment career progression is very important. A well-structured program would ensure that future leaders would get a good look at the different career ‘steps’ before reaching heights. In short, step-by-step ascent to more responsible and ranks is the way it should be. Why those who assumed higher positions either as a gratis or as a blessing from the lady luck fail to perform needs no further explanation.

Thinking about grabbing power itself leads to conscience corruption. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth sets a great example of how a person may become corrupt by the avarice of power. In the initial scenes of the play, it is obvious that Macbeth had a clear conscience. When Lady Macbeth reassures him about power, wealth and goodness that he would inherit if he succeeds in the plot against the unguarded Duncan, Macbeth’s greed for power reaches it’s climax. The three witches and their prophecies turn out to be just an extension of Macbeth’s hidden desire for power and greed.

Chanakya or Kautilya accentuate that a person in high post, should know how to handle power for the benefit of others and not to misuse it. In Arthasastra, Kautilya prophetically predicts the characteristics of bureaucrats and statesmen and goes on dictating rules to prevent misuse of power. Further, Chanakya emphasizes the importance of accounting methods in entities to measure performances. Kautilya was very much clear that no rules and regulations would check unethical behavior and that character-building and action-oriented ethical values were essential for the person in high ranks. Amazing to learn that Arthashastra written early BC is very much relevant even in 2010!

I recall my school days, when the role of the class monitor (the person who manages the discipline during the absence of the teacher) entrusted to one among us, how that little doses of power used to affect the fellow in charge. He may show favoritism by allowing his circle of friends to cross the discipline limits like the freedom to chat, and sometimes to ‘launch’ paper rockets.

In the corporate setting on a daily basis, we can see the mishandling of power and its infringement against the most vulnerable lot, the subordinate employees. Like an expatriate, lower grade employees too are always the victims of power indignation. Office harassment is basically an outcome of the power misuse.

Research also reconfirms that misuse of power is also one of the components that leads to employee bullying. Unrealistic targets, authoritarian management styles, personality issues and failure of the supervisor to take action against such incidents in the past along with misuse of power leads to bullying.

If the supervisor is levelheaded and doesn’t misuse power, then bullying would not happen. This confidence would help improve employee morale, productivity and reduce absenteeism. In one of my previous articles, I have narrated a situation where the immature supervisor always screams or yells at the Team Leader. The other employees in the whole organization always work in fear, as they expect the same fate of the Team Leader. A typical example of abusing of power! Naturally, the employees opt for various ways including change of jobs and the few left behind even resorted to ignore or avoid the big boss.

Unexpected fame or gain of power, stress, arrogance and ignorance could be the causes that push a person to misuse power. Those serving the community or leading organizations or teams should control such emotions and senses before accepting power. Then only we can call them ‘Leaders’.

In the modern era, as MBA and other management programs teach and preach at length to our future managers and leaders about leadership styles and how to lead and manage people through numerous theories (most of them conflicting!) fail to emphasize on the value of being a good human being. To be a good manager and a leader you need to be a good human being to start with. If you have all your emotions under control, then you can be a leader, who will use power only for good and would never misuse power unethically. It is high time that the curriculum for management programs should include a module on how to nurture good values and beliefs.

Scanning feedback received and posted on my recent blog on the New Year resolutions mainly item 9 in the Charter for ‘Corporate Behavior (CCB) for Employees’ it is evident that employees go through lots of ‘no’ situations but due to their job at risk, they restrain from reacting. Another comment was a total dissent against the idea of employee saying no to unethical requests from the boss or supervisor. Further, the question was raised whether the employee should be loyal to the boss/supervisor or to the company? For the employee to work, the company should exist (subsist) right? Then it’s fair that the loyalty pointer is directed towards the company!

Why we need to create situations where the heat is on the employee to do unethical tasks? Is this another instance of power misuse? Yes, it is. Since the requestor is the boss or someone in the higher ranks, and he is forcing the employee to do unethical tasks is a classic example of power abuse.

I continue to disagree to the fact that the employee shouldn’t be a judge of the tasks assigned to him. He can also be the judge as he is the person who will be doing the unethical or wrongdoing. Later, if the unlawful activity is exposed, who will vouch for the poor soul? The boss? I really doubt! Very rarely this may happen and majority of the time, the employee is made a scapegoat.

If you consider the workplace as a sanctum sanctorum, work should be worship and the power expended ethically should be the prasada (like blessed sandal paste given to the devotees in Hindu temples). In such an environment, the rest will fall in their right places and such a workplace will soon be one of the most favored organizations, equally admired by investors, employees and the industry.

I use a quote talking about domination, compromise and integration to end this article and it says, “By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish”. Your thoughts are welcome!

Please keep visiting (every week) for more on the series “Fearless or Shameless”. © stateoftheartconsulting 2010

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