Use and Abuse of Power

There is clearly a sea change in the media and corporate America in attitudes towards sexual misconduct, mostly by men in power. The hashtag #metoo groundswell, almost daily revelations in the press, media reporting, often about its own members, and Time Magazine’s Person of the Year –The Silence Breakers, are fueling a change in tolerance levels across the country.  This change throws the spotlight on corporate America and its leaders, the predominantly male executives and owners in positions of power, and the use or abuse of this power.

Sexual misconduct is an obvious and egregious abuse of power, but it is not the only one.  Other leadership abuses around the workplace include forcing unethical or illegal activity, allowing compensation inequities, putting people in dangerous jobs, creating a hostile work environment, belittling employees (or customers, the public, religious or ethnic minorities, or suppliers for that matter), taking credit for subordinates’ work, not developing employees to their full potential, and many other poor leadership practices. You have probably been faced with some of these in your career.

Power brings responsibility and should be used in a positive way.  Leaders can organize and motivate groups to achieve goals its members couldn’t achieve as individuals.  Leaders can create organizational missions that address critical human needs while serving a range of stakeholders.  Leaders can help people be all they can be, through training, mentoring, and creating a positive, supportive, inclusive culture.

Here are a few specifics for today’s (and tomorrow’s) leaders:

  • Start by setting impeccable standards for yourself and demonstrate those standards in all your decisions and actions.
  • Keep your pants up!  Avoid other more subtle offenses – ogling, private after-hours meetings, comments, even positive ones about clothing and appearance and other subtle forms of discriminatory thinking and behaviors.
  • Communicate appropriate behavioral standards for the business – policies, training, reviews, speeches and stories.
  • Be sure there is an open door policy and hot line, and that they work, and that whistle blowers and others who use the process are protected.  Be aware that people bend toward power.  Train leaders to see and discourage this behavior.
  • Work constantly to establish and maintain a culture of respect for the individual and his or her strengths and contributions.

To summarize, a quote from John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

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