Saturday, March 03, 2007

Power Plays


(John O. Whitney & Tina Packer)

Very few books have gripped me from the start. Maybe I have been more inclined to like the books that built my interest gradually and kept pushing me on the edge like my favourite author Ayn Rand. However, this is one of the very few books read recently that pushed me to the edge from the word go and no, its not a murder mystery story. It’s about Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management – Power Plays by John O. Whitney (professor of Management at Columbia Business School) and Tina Packer (founder, president and artistic director of Shakespeare & Co.).

As per the authors and rightly so, proper exercise of power is one of the most persistent challenges that face us in our work lives. Some of us like Shakespeare’s Richard II do not understand it at all and like him we lose it. Others of us might understand it but then fail to use it; and like Prince Hamlet, we lose it. Thus understanding power – its strengths and limitations – and knowing when and how to use it are critical to success in the business world, as well as in our personal lives.

The desire for Power can be satisfied by means other than a corner huge glass cabin, for example in organizing thousands of people for public service or leading the best known R&D department. Some of the symbols of power – corporate jet, chauffeur car – are mere symbols of power and one should be forewarned of them because when the desire for power becomes the desire for its symbols then we play the acts of Richard II and Macbeth, eventually ruining self.

Understanding power involves answering questions like: what is the reach of power? Will a given action radiate beyond its intended scope? Will there be other unintended consequences? Should limits be put on power? What should we use it for? How far can we take it? How often can we use it? How will we know if it is effective? What will be our reaction if it ignored? Above all, we need to understand its target. For whom or at what is it directed?

And as they say, power is relative and not absolute. Power is relative to time, place and situation. We may be powerful at some time but definitely not all the time, at some place but definitely not all the places, and under some situations but definitely not all situations. So the important thing is the source of power, as the source is not relative. We should never ever lose sight of the real source of our power with a clear understanding that today’s success shouldn’t lull us into thinking that it’ll continue tomorrow too.

The authors, as an example of relative-ness of power, narrate the sequences of Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus.

Warning us that power for power’s sake is power lost, the authors draw parallels between Richard III and Macbeth. Whereas Richard was hell bent on being the King (power) and never introspected that he was assuming a terrorist tendencies for achieving his lust, Macbeth had the doubts if he was doing right, whatever he was doing, to get the power. In the characters of Richard III and Macbeth, Shakespeare shows us the most dangerous temptation of power; namely, that we think it is a good in itself. Might is right.


Anonymous Raine said...

Well said.

11 November, 2008 15:56  

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