Regardless of age, race, gender, class or culture, each of us has at one time or another struggled with power — whether we were looking for ways to get more of it (say, so that we could get people to do what we wanted them to) or were adjusting to suddenly having more of it (like in cases where we are promoted to positions of power).
Yet for something so universally sought after and discussed, power often seems elusive to us.
Finally, a new book — Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It's Everyone's Business (Simon & Schuster, August 31, 2021) — helps us understand how power truly operates. More importantly, it opens our eyes to how we can redistribute it more balanced way.
The new text, which is brought to us by Tiziana Casciaro (professor of Organizational Behaviour and HR Management at the Rotman School of Management and the Marcel Desautels Chair in Integrative Thinking) and Julie Battilana (the Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School), is the culmination of years of research and reflection on power, influence and change. These experts bring their insights on power and relationships to life with engaging stories on how both everyday and renowned leaders took command and inspired change.
Rotman Professor Tiziana Casciaro
Author of Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It's Everyone's Business (Simon & Schuster, August 31, 2021)
Ultimately, they show that what prevents many people from obtaining power is misunderstanding how it works.
As the authors explain, too many of us subscribe to common fallacies about power — for instance, that it’s something that can be owned or possessed, that it’s reserved for the few at the top and that it’s somehow dirty.
In reality, no person or group can maintain a permanent grip on power; it can and does change hands. And it’s not intrinsically dirty or clean. Instead, it is energy that can be harnessed to achieve anything.
“Ultimately, power comes from control over resources that others value. You have power over someone — and can therefore influence their behaviour — if you have something they need and want, and if they have few alternatives besides you to get it,” explains Casciaro. “Since people value many kinds of resources, with careful study, most of us can identify those needs and wants and find ways to satisfy them. That’s where power lies.”
In an early chapter, the authors break down the four main strategies for shifting the balance of power in a relationship. You gain power with attraction — when you have something that another person or group values. Power can also shift into your hands with withdrawal (when you reduce your interest in what others have to offer), consolidation (when you’re the main source for a desired resource, so that others have limited alternatives) and expansion (when you find other options and are no longer tied to dealing with a specific person or group).
In later chapters, the authors show readers how to apply this thinking in the workplace with power mapping. By constructing networks based on a coworker’s influence and relationships with others, practitioners can get a better handle on the informal power structures at play and how to build relationships with the range of colleagues they deal with.
Beyond the workplace, the authors explain how we can enact change on a broader scale. By looking back at how recent movements — such as Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter — unfolded, it becomes clear that although social media and technology helped bring citizens together, these movements acquired power by agitating, innovating and orchestrating collective action.
Casciaro and Battilana close the book with an important call to action. As we come out of this global pandemic — which has uncovered undeniable disparities in power, wealth and access to opportunities — and look to rebuild, all of us bear some responsibility to ensure that power is rebalanced in our society.
“We must understand, build, and use our power, both individually and as a collective of citizens, to ensure our individual rights and freedoms and to fight unjust power hierarchies,” the authors say. “This requires each one of us to recognize that power is everyone’s business.”
Written by Rebecca Cheung