Nearly all people agree that ‘power corrupts; and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.’
After all, there’re so many examples of leadership gone bad in the world.
Yet when most leaders ascend to powerful positions, whether it is at the helm of a country, a corporation, or even a small team, they usually have benevolent intentions. At the heart of their leadership lies a ‘socialised power,’ which they use to work for the common good.
But all of us, including leaders, also possess ‘personalised power;’ which allows us to gain personally, as we’re all entitled to do. The trouble starts when personalised power dominates socialised power; and allows a leader to gain personally at the expense of others.
To be sure, it’s not always clear when this is happening. It may remain murkiest in the mind of the leader themselves. Some leaders delude themselves into thinking that they’re working for the good of others, even when their actions are obviously reprehensible.
With time, some may even start to see themselves as being above the law, requiring people to follow rules that they exempt themselves from.
Consider the case of King David; at once one of the most brilliant but also the most flawed leader. His lowest point as a leader all began one night, when from the roof of his palace, he spotted a gorgeous woman, Bathsheba, taking a bath. It didn’t matter to David that Bathsheba was married, he commanded his messengers: “bring her to me.”
As you’ve probably guessed, David lay with Bathsheba, who conceived his child. Soon, what had seemed like a harmless dalliance snowballed into his biggest nightmare.
Yet instead of doing the right thing; and confessing that he fathered a child with another man’s wife, David began to weave an intricate web of deceit to try to preserve his own image.
He granted Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, a holiday from his duty as a soldier, hoping that he would go home and sleep with his wife. But the best laid plans often go awry.
Out of solidarity with his comrades remaining at the battle front, Uriah slept on the street instead, prompting David to react with even greater dishonour. He ordered his generals to place Uriah at the front of the fiercest battle, ensuring he would be killed.
Following Uriah’s death; and after a suitable period of mourning, Bathsheba married David and bore him a son, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” (Second Samuel 11:27).
Sadly, David did not even seem to recognise his own bad behaviour, until one day, the prophet Nathan visited him and recounted this parable. He told David of two men who lived in one city. One was rich, with many flocks of sheep and cow herds; the other was poor, with but one small lamb which he cherished and treated as one of his children. One day, the rich man had a visitor, but too tight-fisted to slaughter a sheep from his own flock, he took the poor man’s lamb instead and fed it to his guest!
So incensed David when he heard this that he immediately demanded: “Who is this man? I will kill him myself!”
Then Nathan responded, “My Lord, you are that man.”
At that moment, David was forced to confront his wrong-doing. He fasted for seven days; washed and anointed himself; changed his clothes; and prayed. In other words, he transformed himself, inside and out. He turned over a new leaf.
The son he had with Bathsheba died but soon afterwards, they had another son, Solomon, “and the Lord loved him.” (Second Samuel, 12:12)
What can we learn from David?
The first lesson is, leaders are human; and they make mistakes. The question is: how do they behave in the face of those mistakes? Do they attempt to right their wrongs, or cover them up, as David did?
I know many leaders who’re afraid to acknowledge their wrongs, fearing it will make them look weak, or leave them vulnerable to criticism. But the trouble with trying to cover up our mistakes is, sooner or later, our actions catch up with us. We always reap what we have sown.
Good leaders recognise this. They acknowledge their errors and make amends before they’re exposed; or before their mistakes come back to haunt them.
Moreover, good leaders heed advice. Even King David listened to the prophet Nathan. When people ask you to reconsider your actions, or an unpopular position, don’t be afraid to do so. Commune with God and seek advice on how to become the best leader.
We all hold leadership positions, in one form or another, in our lives. Are you a magnanimous leader; or do you plunge the people around you into turmoil to preserve your ego?
Remember, power doesn’t have to corrupt you. In fact, research shows that if you’re a selfish person anyway, you’ll probably also be a selfish leader; but if you are selfless, you can continue to be selfless, and helpful, even when in a position of power.
In summary, power doesn’t corrupt everyone. What’s more, all of us can become positive leaders through the adoption of positive habits.
Don’t trample on other people’s rights, or take your neighbour’s only lamb, just because you can! Use your power wisely, to create a great life for yourself and to benefit others.
Also, understand that in life, there’s no shortage, or competition for resources. There’re countless Bathshebas, or opportunities, out there. Don’t abuse your power, or other people, to get what you want.
Focus on giving birth to positive desires and trust that the means with which to fulfill them will come. When you do that, you become a blessing; and a living example of positive power!
*Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) and the Founder of the Positive Peace Project, an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. For more information regarding how we can help you or your company, please contact [email protected]