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Power With Vs. Power Over: Where Do YOU Stand?

by Jim Taggart June 14, 2011

PowerDo you like to be told what to do, to be given orders without being allowed the opportunity to contribute your ideas?


Then this post is for you.

Do you prefer to give orders without allowing others to question them or to provide their own ideas and contributions?


Then this post is REALLY for you.

Command and control, long the domain of those holding the levers of authority and power, is an anachronism in a world characterized by complex, inter-connected events. To believe that the elite few in management have all the answers and possess the key to the correct path to the future is a fool’s game.

One has only to look at the corporate mistakes of the past (e.g., Home Depot under Bob Nardelli, General Motors, Chrysler, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Sunbeam) to realize that a command and control approach to organizational “leadership” will eventually implode. Some organizations limp forward; others disappear.

I place the word leadership in quotations because of the reflex by society to refer to anything involving managing as just that, leadership. But leadership requires a followership, willing and committed people who share a common purpose and vision. Management, a vital function in organizations, is the complement to leadership. Both are essential in today’s organizations.

Trying to escape command and control is exceedingly difficult, considering that those in positions of authority today were themselves mentored by individuals who were steeped in this mindset.

One of Baby Boomers’ primary traits is that of compliance to authority. We have competed in a highly competitive and volatile labor market over the years, and as such developed deference to authority. We learned command and control from our parents and bosses, and in turn often resorted to that management approach in the workplace. It’s about Power-Over with Boomers.

Contrast this to Generation X, which grew up in the Boomers’ looming shadow and which has tried to break free of their influence, one aspect being command and control. Now look at self-confident Generation Y (Millennials), which has no patience for control-style management and which is far more collaborative than Boomers. For Gen Y it’s all about Power-With.


PowerGiven that many Boomers will be in the labor market for up to another 15 to 20 years, the very different values possessed by the generations will create escalating tensions in the workplace.

What’s needed is a deep shift in how we perceive and practice the combined art of leadership and management.

The issues and challenges we face are far too complex for the traditional command and control approach. It’s not just a matter of responding to the different value systems held by Gens X and Y. Take a moment to read this post on leading Gen Y.

It’s more profound than that.

If those individuals leading organizations truly wish to see extraordinary things accomplished, then Power-Over must be replaced by Power-With. It’s about co-creation, in which people feel part of a bigger picture, where they take initiative, experiment, commit to the organization and rush to work every day wanting to make a difference.

However, this will not happen–cannot happen–when people are treated like dunces, being told what to do, how to do it, when to do it and where to do it.

Where do YOU stand on power-over vs. power-with?

We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.
– Max DePree

Photos courtesy of Crystal Andrushko. To see more of Crystal’s amazing photography please visit her website.


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