#054: How to Keep Your Power as Leader from Destroying Your Character

You’ve no doubt heard the quote from Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Diametrically opposed to Acton is a quote from George Bernard Shaw, “Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.” So who’s right, Acton or Shaw?

Power, Leader

According to Mr. Webster, power in human relationships means, “possession of control, authority, or influence over others.” Sounds pretty much like a definition of most supervisors, managers, and executives. They all possess control and authority over others, and whether good or bad, most bosses influence employee behavior.

There are lots of kinds of power in our modern world.

  • There is the power of advertising. Most of us wouldn’t have jobs without the ability to advertise a product in such a way that it influences someone’s behavior so that they buy our products.
  • There is the power of celebrity. People fawn over sports stars, TV and radio entertainers, and musicians and singers.
  • There is the power of political office. People holding political office wield the power of a government bureaucracy. And of course, there is the power of money. Many people think that money is the ultimate power because if you have enough of it, you can buy the other kinds of power.

Is Power Good or Bad?

Is power good or is it bad? God created the world with the power of free choice so power in and of itself isn’t bad; it’s how people choose to exercise power that can make it bad. A car can provide endless hours of enjoyment on vacation with the family, or in the hands of a drunk, the same car can be a deadly weapon. A pen can write hateful letters or love poems.

It is how we choose to use power that really matters, not the power itself. Some people are preoccupied with the quest for power, and having once obtained it are ill prepared to handle it. Others have power thrust upon them and find that, even if reluctantly, they must manage the power.

Examining the lives of some men in scripture to see how they handled power in their lives it is apparent that some did better than others. Among the group who handled power poorly, at least at some stage in their lives, here are some key learnings about handling power:

1)      Power does not respect background. Whether from wealthy or poor families, whether prominent or unknown, the ability to manage power is inherent in your character, not your family tree.

2)      Power is difficult to maintain. Those who want power will always be trying to increase their power at the expense of others.

3)      Power is addictive. A little power makes one hunger for more. You think, “If I can do this with a little power just think what I could get done with more?”

4)      Power is difficult to control. The more power you have the more difficult it is to understand the effect of the power on others.

5)      Power is easily abused. In the quest to do a good thing, power is often exerted over the will of the people and to their detriment.

The Importance of Character

Noah lived in a time of lawlessness and corruption. When Noah was about 600 years old, God told him to build an ark. Being a man of God, Noah began building the ark. He was the patriarch of the family that was saved to populate the earth. During the balance of his life of some 350 years, Noah demonstrated five keys to handling power.

1)      Noah walked with God regardless of the actions of the rest of the world. While the world became so corrupt that God decided to destroy the whole population, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).

2)      Noah was obedient to God. God told Noah He was going to flood the earth with rain. No one on earth had ever seen rain or a flood yet Noah set about building the ark. It was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. No small task since he had no lumber mills nearby, no power saws, and not a nail gun in sight! Noah never questioned, “Are you sure about this God?” He just got to work; “And Noah did according to all that God had commanded him.” (Genesis 7:5).

3)      Noah received his salvation through faith. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7).

4)      Noah tried to help others. Despite the ridicule suffered from 100 years of building a boat miles from water, Noah kept preaching to his neighbors hoping that they would repent of their sins, “he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others.” (2 Peter 2:5).

5)      Noah honored God. After Noah, his family, and all the animals got out of the ark the first thing Noah did was set up an altar to God and offer a sacrifice.

One Final Thought

Noah lived a quiet life preferring to walk in God’s light rather than the light of the corrupt world he lived in. Noah was obedient to God in small things and in large things. Noah believed through faith that God would save him and his family. Noah tried to help those around him understand God’s plan for salvation. Noah never forgot to honor God in all things.

Character is what matters in the handling of power. Noah had strength of character because he never lost his focus on God. In all the examples of those Biblical characters who started out well but ultimately misused their power, there is one clear commonality; they all lost their focus on God. They began to think that they could do things on their own without God’s help, support, and direction.

Whether you aspire to power, or if you already have power, pray that you will never lose your focus on God!

Bonus Whitepaper

If you would like to go a little deeper into this study of a leader’s power and the impact on character I encourage you to download the attached whitepaper. In this bonus whitepaper I’ve included:

  • Several character profiles of men who handled their power poorly.
  • Two cases studies based on my own experience.
  • Meeting notes to help you take a personal inventory of your own use of power and some questions you can ask of your employees to better understand how power is handled in your organization.

Click here to download the whitepaper:

Join the Conversation!

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you seen abuses of power in your organization? What was the impact on employee morale? Were the abuses of power dealt with or tolerated? Any other tips on managing power while maintaining your character?

Category: Personal Development | Character

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