Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Power is the Ability to Achieve Purpose"

Here in the Nation's capital, there will be a gathering on the downtown Mall this coming Sunday to celebrate the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue. As we all know, Dr. King was an eloquent speaker whose many wise quotes are often repeated in speeches, sermons, power point slides...well, he is well quoted! One of his quotes that especially resonates with me is about power and how he framed it. My pastor observes (and I definitely agree with her!) that most of us recoil when we hear the word power because we have sometimes witnessed the wielding of it in less than admirable ways. However, Martin Luther King Jr. viewed power in a very different way. He believed that "power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose." As individuals, groups, or even organizations, we often forget to consider the purpose aspect of why we are doing what we are doing.

I was recently in Baltimore and observed a group of protesters across the street from my hotel. These groups have sprung up all over the United States and seem to be in it for the long haul. However, as I watched them from my hotel window, I wondered if their power was being diluted because of a lack of purpose other than to demonstrate their anger about the economy, or the lack of jobs, or maybe it's that government is too big, or that government is not see how confused I am about their purpose for protesting. They will probably align around a purpose sooner or later and then they may be able begin to mobilize others to help them achieve the social change they desire because others will understand the change chat. Otherwise, these groups may not be able to do little more than gain the occasional attention from the media when some of the groups' members become defiant and are put into jail.

In organizations, do we ask people to make a change without having identified the purpose? Or, as middle managers, do we fail to fully understand and appreciate the purpose because we had no say in the forthcoming change? And then shrug our shoulders and claim ignorance of purpose when asked by our staff, "why the change?"  Even if the impetus for the change comes from a higher level in the organization, it is our responsibility as managers to not only understand the purpose of the change but to facilitate it at our level and lower. This is where we stop being managers and start wearing our leader hats!

It has been my experience that many middle managers are often unaware of their power during an organizational change because they have not fully grasped the purpose of the change....all of the external political, social, and economic forces contributing to the change and the complex organizational cultural forces contributing to the resistance to the change...middle management being but one. As a matter of fact, middle managers can sometimes be the most significant bottleneck during organizational change because of their lack of ability to achieve purpose. Said another way, their lack of capability to assume power contributes to many change efforts going awry. So, if this is the case, what might organizations do ensure to "empower" their middle managers to lead during organizational change?