Power Corrupts

It is not power that corrupts but fear.

Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and

fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Power over others is a corruptive force.  It is probably truer that power attracts the corruptible.  People, who are more conscious and more compassionate, are usually more attracted to sharing their power.  Power, fully expressed, tends to reveal the true nature of the individual. 

People have plenty of reasons to distrust their leaders. 

One of the most troubling statistics about cheating is that students and business people are beginning to argue that cheating is necessary because everyone cheats.  It has become part of the culture of capitalism; lying, cheating, and stealing are proven ways to get ahead in a culture that values competition over community and compassion. 

Among senior executives within the U.S. financial industry who were interviewed in 2012, over half believe that the rules may have to be broken in order to be successful. They believe that they have to engage in unethical or illegal activity.  Nearly half admitted to being tempted by insider trading.  Nearly one third say they feel pressured to compromise their ethical standards and even to break the law.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2012/07/10/financial-executives-sure-we-lie-and-cheat/

The 2014 political campaigns demonstrated a new level of political corruption and lying.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2014/10/30/fact-check-2014-campaign-whoppers/18081211/.  In September 2014, a federal judged overturned an Ohio law that prohibited lies in political ads, claiming it violated free speech.  Free speech = freedom to lie and produce false and misleading political ads. 

Our leaders also make promises to gain our allegiance, or our votes, and routinely break those promises. Maybe broken promises are nothing new.  We want to believe the promises.  We want to exercise our right to vote, and sometimes we have to choose between the lesser of two liars and con artists. 

Maybe it is the cumulative effect of broken promises and outright lies that has brought us historically low levels of trust and confidence in leaders, low voter turnout, and low levels of civic engagement. 

If leaders have to lie and make promises they cannot keep, then we, those of us with strong moral compasses, not only don’t want to follow those leaders, we also don’t want to be that kind of leader.  Hence we are facing the end of leadership and followership, as we have known them.

That is not necessarily bad news.  In a culture where everyone leads, trust is essential.  If we strive to be egalitarian in our leadership style, we must learn to collaborate and share power.  When we strive to exercise shared power, we are mutually dependent upon character traits like integrity, honesty, compassion, respect, and honoring our word. 

What qualities of leadership are essential for you?  What kind of people do you want to engage with, and share power with?  Are you willing to respect diversity of all kinds?  Are you willing to disagree with love and respect?  Are you willing to be accountable to your colleagues or co-leaders, while also holding them accountable? 

Please complete our brief online survey.  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/L65ZPJ6

We want to know your expectations, hopes, and ideals?  What will it take to create the trust that is needed for genuinely shared leadership?

The people will rise. Let’s pray and act for nonviolent change

Everyone leads!  When we join forces and collectively act with love and justice in our hearts, we can reclaim our power.  We are the leaders we have been waiting for.  We cannot look to heroic solitary leaders to lead us into a future where power is shared rather than used to oppress, suppress, and violate human rights.

Moral Monday nonviolent demonstration in Raleigh, North Carolina

One Billion Rising around the globe to stop violence against women

Clergy lead nonviolent march in Ferguson


The Crisis of Capitalism:  Inequality for All

There is a gathering global storm. We are experiencing the converging effects of environmental degradation, poverty, economic inequality, unprecedented greed and financial corruption, terrorism, and political instability. Those who claim that there must be an end to capitalism or the earth is doomed are responding to global environmental threats.

Is capitalism to blame for the world’s problems? Some argue that capitalism can save the world. Which is the truth?  The answer is not simple.

Global capitalism is constantly evolving.  Like most of our major challenges, capitalism and the effects of capitalism are extremely complex.  The dominant form of capitalism is a dangerous hegemonic patrimonial political capitalism.  Wealth and power are concentrated in less than 1% of the population, the ultra-wealthy political industrialists.

Although some may publicly espouse free markets, in reality there are no markets that are free and unimpeded by the financial and political influence of the wealthiest individuals and largest corporations.  Those with the money and power make the rules of the market.  They have also gained increasing political power which they use to intentionally undermine democracies and nation states.  In the United States, wealthy capitalist (like the Koch brothers) are able to use their wealth to influence elections, restrict voting rights, and gerrymander elections. 

Yet, there is hope.  There are also emerging expressions of compassionate or conscious capitalism.  Hybrid organizations (a diverse and complex continuum that blurs the for-profit/nonprofit duality) pursue social and environmental missions like nonprofits, but generate income to accomplish their mission like for-profits). Hybridity is a process that involves a mixture of two or more different elements, which results in a new element that is distinct from the prior elements.  Examining 21st century capitalism through the lens of hybridity subverts the dominant capitalist narratives.

For the past week the most visible sign of hope is the emergence of people powered movements that are intentionally connecting economic and social justice with the market place.  Wal-mart exemplifies the crisis of our dominant form of capitalism – the unbridled greed and excessive exploitation of markets by the wealthiest 1%.  Wal-mart is also a great example because it represents our participation in the systems that oppress us.  Walmart grew to become the world’s largest retailer in large part because middle class and low income people were attracted to the promise of low prices. 

Now we understand the cost of low prices in terms of the destruction of locally owned retail businesses, poverty wages for employees, and corporate tax benefits (corporate welfare).  Wal-mart is a major contributor to the decline of the middle class and the growth of poverty and hunger — all under the promise of lower prices.  The reality is that the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have become wealthy and powerful at the sake of their workers and customers. 

The recent boycotts and strikes (including the Black Friday boycotts) are great examples of people-powered movements rallying to use capitalist principles to subvert the narrative of dominance.  If we, as employees and customers, exercise our right to work and shop at more responsible and compassionate retailers, Wal-mart will not continue to dominate the market place. 

We may not be able to stop the influence of Walton and Koch money in our political system, but we can refuse to work for the companies that exploit their workers.  We can refuse to shop at Wal-mart and creatively band together to create markets that work for all people, not just the top 1%. 

Coercive Control and the Abuse of Power

Unfortunately the domination culture far too often begins at home in our most intimate relationships; the insidious coercive control used by men to force women to submit to their power, the oppressive use of physical and emotional violence used by parents to suppress and coerce children.  An aspect of coercive control is that women and children who are subjected to it become captives in their own homes.  The symptoms are not unlike prisoners of war and hostages, except with domestic violence their captor is their intimate partner or parent.

Domestic abuse is a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. These are behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. Abuse includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of abuse can be going on at any one time.  The Power and Control Wheel is a useful illustration of the complexity of power and control issues involved in intimate partner violence.


One of my friends works as a dispatcher for the local emergency and law enforcement agencies; he dubbed Thanksgiving as National Domestic Violence Day.  On Thanksgiving morning (11/27/2014), my Facebook news feed included a report of two shooting deaths in Sherwood, Oregon.  My first thought was domestic violence, a suspicion that ended up being confirmed later in the day.


Two days later my morning news feed contained a news report that at first sounded like an incident of Black Friday shopping frenzied greed at a Nordstrom store in Chicago, but it was another intimate partner murder.


Each minute – Twenty-four people are victims of intimate partner violence (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Each day – Three or more women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands (according to the American Psychology Association).

Overall – Almost one out of five or 16.3% of murder victims were killed by an intimate partner (from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics). 

When we raise children to submit to authoritarian/dominating power systems, their lives may be at risk.  It is reported that more than 2,000 children in the U.S. die of child abuse each year, and the actual number of abuse and neglect deaths is estimated to be much higher than that reported by vital statistics data.

While the domination culture teaches, “spare the rod and spoil the child,”  there are alternatives. Here is a resource for parents and other interested adults – for raising caring and connected children.   http://saiv.org/parenting-guide/

What is your experience as a child?  Did you grow up in a dominator home?  Was your childhood caring and nurturing or violent and scary?  What relationship do you see between corporal punishment (beating or spanking children) and larger issues of abuse of power?

I look forward to your comments.

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Racism, Rankism, and Nonviolence

It’s not only about Michael Brown, and Darren Wilson.  It’s not only about Ferguson, Missouri, St. Louis County, or the State of Missouri.  It is about a culture of extreme rankism.  Rankism is abusive, discriminatory, or exploitive behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy.

Once you have a name for it, you see rankism at the heart of many infringements of human rights, far away, or close to home. Rankism is the root cause of indignity, injustice, and unfairness. Choosing the term rankism, places the goal of universal human dignity in the context of contemporary movements for civil rights. Identifying rankism in all its guises and overcoming it is the next step in human evolution. 

Human beings are evolving towards democracy, partnership, and egalitarianism.  Unfortunately, we are also experiencing a time of tremendous pushback as those who have more power in our hierarchical culture use that power to protect their power and gain even more power.  Yet, people are finding and exploring their power within mass movements.  Gradually human beings are coming to a deeper realization of their innate power, and the ways that they give up that power to their leaders.  As mentioned in earlier posts, people are becoming less willing to give their power to their leaders, to be obedient followers. 

One lesson that can be gleaned from the recent shootings of young black men by police officers is that violence begets violence.  Violence does not contribute to peace with justice.  Although police officers think they are using violence to keep the peace in their communities, they are really just participating in escalating cycles of violence. 

Our inability to enact sensible gun controls = increasing use of guns by criminals.  When criminals can easily obtain military assault style weapons, then law enforcement justifiably feel the need to acquire military assault style vehicles and weapons.  Once they have those weapons, they feel justified in using them against their own neighbors and within their own communities.  Now we see images that evoke feelings that our government is literally at war with our own citizens. 

As a practitioner of nonviolence, and a conscientious objector to war, I have never had any desire to possess firearms.  However, as a person who believes passionately in our right to nonviolent assembly, seeing the police show up to a demonstration for racial justice with assault rifles and armored vehicles helps me to understand how my libertarian neighbors think they need absolute rights to own firearms (to protect themselves from our government).  It is a vicious, costly, and very sad cycle of violence leading to tragic deaths and increased violence.

Rankism supports the use of violence by those with more power against those with less power; the culture of might makes right. 

Racism is our most visible rankism.  People of color cannot blend in. Even when they excel and achieve positional power within a hierarchical culture, the color of their skin is always visible. 

Rankism depends on underlying beliefs that the lives of some people are more important or valuable than the lives of other classes of people.  #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackoutBlackFriday are movements (primarily nonviolent) that are actively and creatively taking collective action to raise awareness of the impact of racism in our communities. 

Yes, there are also violent uprisings occurring in Ferguson and other cities.  Young black men are outraged.  Violence is used to keep them oppressed, and much of what they know is violence.  They do not understand the power of nonviolence.  Yet, there are people of color and white people coming together in loosely organized leader-ful movements throughout our country.  We are experiencing the end of authoritarian leadership and the emergence of people powered movements. (At least that is my hope).

We want your stories!  How does rankism contribute to racism?  Have you felt like the hierarchical system treats you as a human being of “lesser value” because you are a person of color, and immigrant, gay/lesbian/transgender/or queer, a woman, a person who lives in extreme poverty (resource deprived)?  In what ways do you fit into a category of people with some privilege that has been granted by a culture of rankism?  Do you ever feel trapped within that system, unable to break down the hierarchy of rank and privilege?  What actions are you taking to create a world of partnership, collaboration, and shared-power?

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We won’t even let our President lead

My last post was about the imbalance of power among our national leaders, and the low levels of confidence and trust that citizens have for our leaders. 

The crisis in elected leadership is very complex.  How can an elected body effectively lead our country forward if their approval rating is below 20%?  To me, that indicates that more than four out of five citizens are not willing to follow the people they elect into office.  We have leaders who no longer represent followers.  Who do they represent?

For as long as we have had mass media, presidents have used that mass media to make appeals to their citizens.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his fireside chats (radio broadcasts) to explain his uses of executive powers.

On Thursday, November 20, 2014, President Obama notified the major network tv channels of his intention to talk to the people about his exercise of executive powers related to our immigration challenges.  He requested ten minutes of prime time air time.  ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox denied his request.  Previous presidents have never had trouble getting prime time coverage for major public addresses.

When the news got out, the networks lied and tried to claim that the President never requested the airtime. Later they claimed they refused to air the speech because it was “overtly political.’ 

Jason Easley, a writer for politicususa.com wrote, “It is shameful that the networks have decided not to inform their viewers. The corporate run broadcast networks are acting like the airwaves belong to them. It is long past time for the networks to be reminded that the airwaves belong to the American people, not the corporations. If the networks refuse to do their civic duty, they need to be held accountable.”

Here we have an example of the failure of leadership on a number of levels.  Corporations and corporate media have been granted certain powers by the citizens.  Our country’s founders were revolting against the control of English corporations as well as the King of England.  In the early years, our nation retained a healthy fear of corporate power.  Initially, the privilege of incorporation was granted selectively to enable activities that benefited the public.  How things have changed!

The corporate networks may have decided that a major announcement that would impact 5 million people was not newsworthy.  It is more likely that they were more concerned about their advertising revenues. 

How can the President of the United States represent the people, if our major media networks think his major policy announcements are not newsworthy?  How can we expect our President to do his job if he is thwarted and blocked in every direction?  Do you care?  I do.

We don’t trust our national leaders

On Thursday, November 20, President Obama made a televised announcement of changes to policies regarding enforcement of immigration laws.  This is just one of many issues that have a major impact on the lives of citizens of our country that the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives has been unwilling to address.

The President of the United States has considerable executive authority.  The United States has a long history of presidents issuing executive orders. In fact, even the nation’s first president, George Washington, issued some executive orders.  This is one of the constitutional powers of the office of the President.

Our founding fathers, our constitution, our democracy rests on a foundation of three branches of government:  Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.  Lately, our three-legged stool of democracy is a striking example of the failure of leadership.  The Legislative branch refuses to legislate.  The Senate has been incapacited by fillibusters, a tactic used by the minority to block bills.  The House has been taken over by a brand of conservative/libertarians who would prefer to destroy democracy and the institutions that maintain a civil society.  The Supreme Court has become an activist court, meaning they are exercising their power to legislate or create laws, not just interpret laws.

When one of the three branches of government fails to engage in the work that they are constitutionally required to do, the balance of power is disrupted.  When one of the three branches of government exerts too much power, it disrupts the balance. 

Some presidents were aggressive in their use of Executive power.  For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued over 3,500 (in twelve years), Theodore Roosevelt issued 1,081 executive orders, while Woodrow Wilson issued 1,803 and Calvin Coolidge 1,203.  President Barack Obama, on the other hand, has issued only 193 so far in his time in office. (http://www.ourmidland.com/opinion/editorials/how-about-leadership-instead-of-orders/article_0d58b466-c12a-564a-bbed-7519aed543ad.html)

An imbalance of power in the three branches of government is not unusual. However, when you examine the whole picture of our U.S. Government, clearly we are reaching a crisis of leadership beyond what we have experienced in modern times. 

After the recent midterm elections, polls indicated two-thirds of Americans say that the country is on the wrong track.  A majority (56%) want Congress to take the lead in setting policy (passing legislation).  63% want their elected representatives to make compromises instead of continuing the divisive partisan politics.  Congress has an 11-14% approval rating (but a strange 96% reelection rate – evidence of the power of big money in our political system). (http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/it-never-happened-public-shrugs-midterm-results-poll-shows-n252011).

The citizens do not trust their elected leaders!  The Executive Branch is only one of the three branches.  The President, although very powerful, is only one man.  I cannot imagine how challenging his job must be; to try to exercise the power of the President of the United States (positional, hierarchical power) during this paradigm shift in our national and global leadership culture.  We are experiencing the end of the hierarchical authoritarian industrial age culture of leadership – shifts are happening.

Societal trends impacting leadership

Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek (authors of the book, Life Entrepreneurs, 2008) describe three overarching societal trends that are affecting our leadership culture.  The nature of work and life is evolving and what is emerging is reshaping our workplaces, schools, communities, and our world.


The first trend is called untethering.  People are severing their ties to traditional hierarchical institutions and structures and replacing those structures with virtual connections.  Many of our emerging entrepreneurs are freelancers, free agents, and sole proprietorships (entrepreneurial firms without employees). 

People are also untethering from other connections, resulting in a general decline in social capital, religious affiliations, and civic involvement.  We are increasingly dependent upon technology; while expecting and giving less of ourselves to authentic in-person relationships (Sherry Turkle, 2011). 

Untethering is an act of personal leadership; you are choosing to lead your own work life, and create your own work.

Gergen and Vanourek issue this warning; “It is worth noting that the increasing prevalence of free agents carries the danger of creating a toxic hyper-individualism and disconnected physical communities.  How can communities be structured to embrace entrepreneurial living in ways that bind us together instead of driving us apart?” 


The search for authenticity is the second major trend.  One of the contributing factors for the lack of employee engagement is the disconnect between the work that people are doing and their authentic selves.  Engaged employees, freelancers, and social entrepreneurs, work with passion and feel a profound connection to their work.  According to the research of the Gallup organization, matching employees’ distinctive gifts, talents, skills, and interests to their specific job responsibilities is essential to high levels of engagement with our work.  People who have an opportunity to use their strengths every day on the job are six times more likely to be engaged. 

Effective leading demands authenticity.  Michael Kernis identifies four core elements of authenticity: self-awareness, unbiased processing, relational authenticity, and authentic behavior/action (Kernis, 2003).  Authentic leaders understand their distinct gifts, passions, and purpose.  People who live and lead authentically are not only more satisfied with their lives, they also have the potential to create organizations full of highly engaged employees who are also living authentic lives. 

Integration and Integrity

Integration is the final overarching trend mentioned by Gergen and Vanourek.  Integration is much more than merely the “restoration of coherence and congruence in our lives.”   

Parker Palmer also wrote about the human yearning to live integrated lives, although he used the term ‘living undivided lives’ (Palmer, 2004).  Integration and integrity involve the state or quality of being entire, complete, and unbroken.  “The divided life is a wounded life, and the soul keeps calling us to heal the wound (Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness).”  However social systems and corporations have been well served by requiring individuals to compartmentalize and engage in activities that are not congruent with our values and our souls. 

Living an undivided life, or being a person of integrity, begins with self awareness.Yet in many ways no matter how hard we try to become fully aware of ourselves, we are ‘strangers to ourselves’ (Wilson, 2002). Wilson provided research that suggested that introspection does not lead to deep self awareness. Wilson advised, If you want to know who you are, or what you feel, or what you’re like; pay attention to what you actually do and what other people think about you. Palmer (2004) also suggested that because human beings have an endless capacity for self deception, we need the support of other people to restore our wholeness; to live undivided lives. Palmer recommended a “circle of trust” or a trusted community to help individuals find their core identity (Gergen & Vanourek, 2008).

In my coaching and teaching I use a number of exercises and assessments that help you discover your core identity through a process of identifying your (external elements) personal history, current circumstances, relationships, (internal elements) needs, behavior style, motivators, and strengths.  At the intersection of those internal and external elements is your core identity, values, and purpose.  

With the breakdown in social capital many people find it difficult to find opportunities to engage in deep group processes, but it is within these groups that the most powerful transformations of self occur.

Integrity and living an undivided life are essential qualities of authentic leading.  As we untether it makes it more difficult to receive trusted feedback from other people.   We are not meant to live isolated lives.  Knowing how other people experience us and perceive us are essential components of self awareness for authentic leaders.

Are you interested in belonging to a circle of trust, or a community of practice designed to deepen the consciousness of the participants?  What would work for you?  Would you prefer in person gatherings?  Would you be willing to step forward and organize a circle of trust in your community?  Would you prefer to travel to retreats for this work?  Help us design programs that would accelerate our personal transformation and create a sense of belonging to something bigger and more powerful – a movement of evolutionary co-leaders.

If you have not already completed the survey this week, please participate in our brief survey.

Beyond the leader follower dichotomy

Younger generations are restless and suspicious of hierarchical leadership, for good reason. They prefer to be actively engaged in the causes that they care about. However, they may not possess the maturity and skills to be evolutionary co-leaders.  We must face the fact that the United States has not invested in the type and quality of education designed to create millions of thought leaders and activists prepared to address the challenges of our age.  We teach most students to follow instructions, not create new possibilities. [And there are lots of exceptions to this, I am inspired by some of the young social activist leaders I know… but they are not the majority].

One of the most important aspects of the new culture of leadership is that people will no longer have the luxury of simply being followers.  People will shed the false notion that they are powerless. 

Although we all have innate abilities to lead, we have drastically different social locations and contexts.   Oppression is a powerful force that convinces people that they cannot change their circumstances or context.  Rankism, racism, sexism, classism and many other systems rob people of their innate power. 

Taking back our power can be dangerous, even life-threatening.  We need to create supportive structures and contexts for people that allow people re-discover their innate ability to use their power.  

We also need to retrain adults, to take back their power, by teaching them to make countless small daily choices that dismantle the hierarchical power systems.  Many adults shy away from leadership roles, particularly women.  We need to support people as they strive to be less dependent (they can no longer depend on their employer to provide for their needs), to be more generative (to create meaningful work), and to be more generous (we are in this together, and we need to give those who are struggling a hand up). 

The most difficult kind of generosity is giving people what they need to sustain themselves.  This level of generosity sometime threatens us because we have bought into the scarcity myth and we are used to playing the capitalist competition win/lose games. 

We fail to see that working 50 or 60 hours a week to keep our job, steals so much of the quality of our lives.  There would be enough work, and enough food and shelter to go around if we practiced an empowering kind of generosity. 

This evolutionary transformation needs to begin within our selves, extending to our families and neighbors, rippling out to our workplaces and markets, impacting the way we vote, and the people we elect. All politics are local, and global transformation begins in our local community. 

The metaphor or image that I hold for this new model of leadership is the image of an ecosystem, or a perma-culture (garden).  It is holistic and highly collaborative.  Each person contributes something to the collective well-being, even if the contribution is as ordinary as receiving love and care (our children and people with severe disabilities).  The leadership culture is an eco-egalitarian culture.

It will not be easy.  It will be the most difficult and courageous thing that human beings have ever done.  Our survival depends on it.  We did not create the web of life; we are merely strands in it.  We can be engaged in restoring the web, and creating stronger connections.  We are in this together. 

The end of leadership?

We are experiencing a global crisis of leadership.  The signs are everywhere.  There are riots in the streets, and governments are nearly unable to govern.  Global economic inequality is out of control.  Our leaders seem unable to deal with global warming and the environmental crisis.  In the United States we just watched another election where dark money and the very wealthiest called the shots.  Voter turnout was low, people are disillusioned with their leaders.

In addition to governing, leaders have historically held tremendous power over markets and employment of workers.  Generally, followers (workers) look to leaders to create jobs and economic activity.  There are an estimated 75 million jobless workers in the world; and 40% of the jobless are young workers under the age of 25 (World Economic Forum, 2013).  Many who have jobs do not appear to be motivated or inspired by their managers or leaders.  On a global basis only 13% of employed workers are engaged in their work; actively disengaged employees (employees who are negative or potentially hostile) outnumber engaged employees two to one.

Barbara Kellerman critically examined the current state of leadership in her book, The End of Leadership.  “Humankind writ large is suffering from a crisis of confidence in those who are charged with leading wisely and well, and from a surfeit of mostly well-intentioned but finally false promises made by those supposed to make things better.”

New York Times columnist David Brooks also described the attitudes of followers towards the entire and their opinions of their leaders as ‘fundamentally self-dealing’, “Levels of trust in and approval of leaders are at all-time lows.”

Where do you see the signs of the leadership crisis? 

How is the leadership crisis impacting your life or your community? 

What story can you share that will resound with others, or that will provide hope for others?  What are your ideas for transforming our leadership culture?

Post your comments below.