In a recent article entitled ‘Winter is coming!’ my colleague Liaquat used the hugely successful TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ as his analogy for the inevitability of change, and the need to innovate – so let’s keep with the theme, and talk about power and Influence!
The battle for the Iron Throne is all about power: those that don’t have it want it, and those that do have it want more of it.
In the 16th Century, Machiavelli wrote “It is much safer to be feared than loved”. In 1998 author Robert Greene did his best to cement Machiavelli’s work when he wrote his bestseller ’48 laws of Power’.
Here are some of his laws:
Law 3: Conceal your Intentions
Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim
Law 14: Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy
Law 16: Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honour
Law 38: Think as you like but Behave like others
Machiavelli would be so proud – and I’m certain that all the power-crazed characters from Game of Thrones, with the exception of Jon Snow, would slaughter of few more extras to show their approval too!
As John Dalberg-Acton said a century and a half ago; “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
It’s true to say that Greene’s laws represent the last 3000 years in the history of power, but I wonder how much of this still plays out in our workplaces today. Surely, with everything we know and understand about effective leadership, this style and approach has long since ceased to see the light of day…I wonder.
In his book, ‘The Power Paradox’, Dacher Keltner brings together 20 years of research exploring what power is, what confers it upon an individual, and how it shapes the structure of a collective, a community, and a culture. He distinguishes between what he calls ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’.
So, what constitutes these powers?
For hard power, let’s revisit Game of Thrones: several Kings, Queens and Lords gained their power by attrition, by force, by manipulating others and instilling fear, by being louder and more aggressive than the rest – and only one of them has dragons!
For soft power, well we need look no further than our own Princess Diana: a people person who affected the lives of others positively and was a power for good by using her ability to relate to and empathise with others. Research seems to back this approach up, suggesting that empathy and social intelligence are overwhelmingly more important influencers of power than are coercion, manipulation, or terror.
Paradoxically however, studies also show that once people assume positions of power, the very skills that enabled them to obtain power are likely to vanish. Their actions often become more selfish, they become more impulsive and their aggression levels often rise and are more frequently displayed, while simultaneously, empathy – that often lauded behaviour – becomes an ever-decreasing circle of activity.
It’s as if the skills most important to obtaining power and leading effectively are the very skills that deteriorate once we have power, and this is what Keltner calls the power paradox.
Back to the 7 Kingdoms at Game of Thrones, and to Daenerys, the dragon queen: this once meek and mild lady who on her rise to power demonstrated exemplary levels of soft power – soft power that resulted in real influence, and real influence that resulted in loyalty and commitment (okay, I admit her 3 dragons might have helped at this point) has seemingly crested the soft power rise and is now tumbling down the hard power slope. Or is she? Has Jon Snow, he of the soft power approach to influence, managed to halt that tumble?
You see, power and influence can be wrested forcibly from those around us. The actions involved aren’t always obvious, in fact across many organisational cultures most are subtle. But power and influence gained and ostensibly maintained in this way is finite.
As Keltner observes:
“Our influence, the lasting difference that we make in the world, is ultimately only as good as what others think of us. Having enduring power is a privilege that depends on other people continuing to give it to us”.
Keltner’s message seems clear: developing and using the skills and behaviours associated with soft power are much more likely to improve and sustain our ability to influence than those associated with hard power. Here at ASK, we refer to these two dichotomies of power as Personal (soft) and Positional (hard).
So, back to Game of Thrones: Us ‘throners’ must now wait for what will seem like an impossibly long time before we find out whether Jon Snow’s soft power wins through against the hard power adopted by pretty much everyone else. For all you managers and leaders out there wanting to learn more about your power and influence, how it plays out within your teams and your organisation, your wait can be no time at all.
If you are looking to improve influencing skills through a programme of learning which is proven to offer significant, lasting change to the development of your managers and leaders, give me a call on 01234 757575 or email me on email@example.com and let’s discuss your unique needs, and how ASK’s bespoke programmes can be tailored to meet them.