Our species governs and reigns supreme over the planet with advanced reasoning and execution skills combined with skills in emotion management and impulse regulation-also setting our species apart from the animal world. However, the nature of our power depends not primarily upon this superior raw potential. Ultimately, our power is determined by the operating system we apply in self-governance, and that is the focus of this book. Moreover, it provides a framework for understanding power within eight dimensions in an attempt to illuminate those key forks in the road where choices are made in our pursuit of power, both healthy and destructive. Healthy power emerges from the development of a person's core strengths and is manifested in effective personal leadership. This, in turn, generates positive, values-driven results through our empowering influence upon others and systems. Welcome to your journey toward self-empowerment!
"A stellar job, Craig: a well written, well organized and eminently readable book. I recommend it enthusiastically."
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HEALTHY POWERPathways to Success in Work, Love and Life
By Craig N. Piso
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Craig N. Piso, Ph.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneP ... Personal Responsibility vs. Personal Irresponsibility
I can solve a problem only when I say 'This is my problem and it's up to me to solve it.'
M. Scott Peck
PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND HEALTHY POWER
A number of influential great authors have written about the pivotal role personal responsibility plays in mature power development. Stephen Covey introduced the first of his "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" as learning to be responsibly proactive, instead of being emotionally reactive, attributing blame for the latter (i.e., responsibility) to people and/or things outside of oneself. Similarly, Deepak Chopra emphasized in his "7 Spiritual Laws of Success" the critical value of becoming self-referred versus object referred. He recognized that a sense of personal responsibility sets the stage for self-empowerment, while defining or otherwise allowing ourselves to be driven by outside forces is a pathway toward individual hollowness and eventual failure.
Accordingly, the first root principle in this book's POWERFUL framework stems from the following premise regarding Personal Responsibility:
... Power = Responsibility: Power and responsibility develop in direct proportion to each other and are functionally related within healthy individuals and systems ...
We see a direct relationship between power (control) and responsibility (accountability) since the more power we possess, the more responsibility we bear for how we use it. Further, the relationship between power and responsibility is a functional one since when you increase one side of the equation you get a proportional increase on the other side, and vice versa. The caveat is that we're talking about a reasonably healthy individual operating within a comparably favorable situation. Accordingly, if we are mature, well-developed people working within a predominantly healthy family or societal system, we will become more powerful in healthy ways as we handle our duties more responsibly. Our willingness to take complete ownership of and accountability for our choices propels us down the path to self-empowerment within any healthy system.
Conversely, such a person predictably becomes so much more responsible that she becomes appropriately self-empowered and develops in a supportive environment. It follows, then, that the fundamental way to help someone who has an adequate sense of conscience to become even more responsible in both personal and professional settings is to empower that person (e.g., grant her increased authority; provide instruction/training, supports, and tools), and then hold her reasonably accountable. This is the fundamental nature of good parenting within families, and likewise it is also the essence of good management in work settings, because they share the common goal of promoting successful growth and development that mutually benefit the individual and the system in which she functions.
This process unfolds and becomes clear when we consider how a candidate in training at a police academy responds when first given a loaded handgun for target practice. Suppose you are that candidate. If you are mature, you will recognize immediately that you are holding deadly force in your grasp, increasing dramatically your potential power to destroy lives, including your own, as well as property. Rather than acting carelessly or dangerously, as a scrupulous person, you will adhere closely to safety instructions regarding appropriate weapons discharge and usage, etc., showing your heightened sense of responsibility.
As such a police officer who thinks beyond the training, you will likely be promoted because you demonstrate increasing levels and forms of responsible behavior in the performance of your duties. Within any healthy system, responsible behavior is eventually rewarded with increased authority, since employers generally compensate people for their responsible and valuable performance. People are not usually rewarded or promoted for their authority. Instead, employees gain higher authority and other forms of empowerment to enable them to better meet their responsibilities.
The empowerment lesson here is this:
... If you want to become more powerful within any reasonably healthy system, then act more responsibly ...
Not only does this root principle apply to the fairly commonplace situations of parenting children and managing staff, it also has profoundly important relevance to situations where we are pressed to extremes of hardship by suffering trauma and loss. In his analysis of those men who found inner strength to survive the horrors of concentration camp life versus those who became broken, and often died, Viktor Frankl reported the following account of the relationship between personal accountability and energy for living:
"The typical reply with which a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, 'I have nothing to expect from life any more.' What sort of answer can one give to that? What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by lifedaily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct." (Man's Search for Meaning, 1959, p. 85)
Throughout my career, and especially during the past 10 years, understanding the dynamic relationship between power and responsibility has served me as a useful diagnostic formula when evaluating people seeking resolution from their strife. For example, I find it illuminating to ask someone during the interview process about her handling of current and/or previous difficult, challenging situations, personal and/or professional in nature. There is a striking and important distinction between those who report having been able to overcome and solve problems and those who point the finger of blame, make excuses for failures, and present their victim role in such responses. Since power and responsibility always travel together in a healthy (i.e., mature, competent) individual, such persons are likely to report a sense of ownership (i.e., responsibility) when having faced earlier problems. Whether or not they solved the problems, they describe their experiences from the perspective of an internal locus of control and, therefore, with a strong sense of accountability for how they handled them.
Among truly great, effective leaders, I've found a consistent relationship between the responsibility they demonstrate and how well they are empowered. This reflects an encouraging interplay of individual behavior and team dynamics, and it has been well described by Jim Collins (Good to Great, 2001, Chapter 2): Level 5 great leaders embody Humility with Resolve, demonstrated in part through The Window and the Mirrorlooking unselfishly through the Window to give full credit to staff when things are going well, while looking courageously in the Mirror to take responsibility when things are going poorly. It's no surprise that he also found ineffective leaders tended to do the opposite, thereby generating tension and resentment as fallout compromising their effectiveness.
The bottom line is this: You hold the trump card of personal power since no one can make you do anything against your will, as long as you are willing be to fully responsible for your choices, including the consequences that your choices could bring upon you. This also means that there is absolutely nothing that you must do in this lifetime. There is a trite phrase that asserts, "The only things you have do in life are to die and pay taxes," a popular but misleading notion since it assumes that you have no choice. While inevitably each of us will one day die, whether by natural causes or tragically, there is absolutely no one who can make you pay taxes. Of course, since there is always a cause-and-effect relationship, failure to pay your taxes is a high-risk decision for which most people do not roll the dice. However, as we all know, there are many people who do withhold payment, proving the point once again that each of us holds the final authority and exercises final control over our actions. Accordingly, each of us is responsible for the choices we make and is rightly held accountable for how we wield our power.
Once you become clear about your personal empowerment in actual and consistent practice, not merely as an exercise in semantics, then and only then will you become totally free. Any prudent person will weigh the probable risks against potential rewards of their choices before committing to taking action. Therefore, for example, most people pay their taxes rather than gamble with adverse consequences (and otherwise to uphold their civic duty). The point emphasized here, however, is that once you perceive yourself as controlled by forces outside of yourself, you not only have someone or something to blame for your actions, you also have abdicated your power in making a shift from an internal to an external locus of control. Remember the principle that power and responsibility go hand in hand, thus we know at least unconsciously that our reduced power equally relieves us of responsibility. This also calls to mind the process through which too many of us subvert our inherent potential power by avoiding or denying responsibility, which brings our discussion about pathways to power eventually to the other side of this same coin.
In the following poignant yet uplifting passage, Viktor Frankl provides us with his account of the universal truth regarding our freedom to make choices at life's most challenging forks in the road, therein reaffirming our responsibility to choose our own path under any circumstances:
"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedomsto choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way ... Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it became clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of himmentally and spiritually." (Man's Search for Meaning, 1959, p. 75)
There are tremendous positive ripple effects interpersonally from growing into Personal Responsibility as part of one's character and behavior. First, since we tend to trust individuals who hold themselves accountable as their personal code of conduct, risk-taking naturally increases between people so connected. This, of course, is a critical component of intimacy in all of its forms, for without trust, we tend to keep a safe distance in order to protect against perceived risk. Second, since any leader acquires the power to be effective primarily from those being led, we will enjoy greater empowerment via our people as we win their loyalty and support through consistently responsible use of our authority, as in the Servant Leadership description offered earlier. Finally, consistent demonstration of responsible behavior with appropriate accountability inspires others to follow such an example, especially when it is made clear that such is the formula for healthy self-empowerment (i.e., Power = Responsibility).
PERSONAL IRRESPONSIBILITY AND UNHEALTHY POWER
Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
At the opposing fork in the road is the pathway toward Personal Irresponsibility. One obvious way to recognize that we are not leading our life responsibly is when we blame others for the things we are doing. When we go in this direction, whether consciously or otherwise, we progressively deny culpability for our struggles or failings while attributing responsibility to others and/or forces outside of ourselves. The problems we manifest this way often result from clinging tenaciously to our perceived power while shirking and shedding responsibility for bringing painful consequences or otherwise not meeting our own or others' expectations.
Mature people understand that blaming others for our actions is an invalid stance to take since no one ever controls our minds, unless we permit it, and because it is from our own minds that we choose one path or another. Some have argued, "That's wrong because sometimes people make other people do bad things by holding weapons against them, so they are not responsible when they do those bad things!" Although that might sound convincing, the truth remains that the final choice always rests with the person with the gun to her head, as long as she is willing to accept the consequences of her decision. Many great heroes from history have chosen torture, imprisonment, and even death rather than be compelled to do something against their inner beliefs and values. They realized unequivocally that they were responsible for their final choice and did not blame others for the choice that they made, no matter how terrible the outcome might have been. They called forth and demonstrated their ultimate freedom to choose ... expressing their ultimate power by doing so!
Frankly, the desire to wield power without accountability or other negative consequences represents a fundamentally primitive attempt to have the best of both worlds, at least from the standpoint of child-like wishes and fantasies born out of magical thinking. Such a desire, while perhaps initially and superficially attractive, refutes the logic of cause-and-effect relationships. Whenever we make things happen through our choices, we are appropriately responsible for the outcomes we generate through such choices. As Stephen Covey would say of any such universal law governing the human race, this constitutes a " True North Principle."
From a developmental and psychological standpoint, any person's quest for Unhealthy Power stems from the normally egocentric ("the world revolves around me"), grandiose ("I am superior"), and omnipotent ("I am all powerful") features that are so recognizable among two-year-old toddlers. Instead of taking responsible ownership for her well-being and better self-control by making adjustments, the egocentric individual at any age is continually in search of external (in lieu of internal) solutions to relieve her from personal distress. Accordingly, she demonstrates little or no intrinsic motivation to change from the inside out. Similarly, her adjustment muscles remain underdeveloped or, if they have already grown, they atrophy through underuse during circumstances in which she is permitted to behave irresponsibly.
Empowering unhealthy expressions of primitive, immature, and rebellious behavior by not setting appropriate limits and enforcing fair, consistent consequences only serves to prolong a person's experiences of omnipotence through undisciplined expansion. Figuratively, it allows the genie to escape from the bottle and then to wreak havoc without regard for the feelings or welfare of others. After all, this individual has not been required to adjust her self-image from being the center of the universe to being one of the billions of people who occupy our planet. She clings instinctively to a grandiose sense of self and fails to develop humility, the latter being the cornerstone of reality-based personal-social adjustment, which will be covered more fully in Chapter 5. As described earlier, emotional maturation proceeds only through commensurate adjustment. Therefore, the child or adult who enjoys power without motivation to change via meaningful consequences will predictably remain developmentally arrested. Because enabling such behavior engenders maladjustment, whether in rearing children or in responding to those in authority over us, this aspect of Unhealthy Power is usually a prominent feature of relatively unhealthy families and other systemspower without commensurate responsibility.
Of course, it is equally damaging to the psyche of a maturing individual to crush her spirit through overly controlling, domineering, or otherwise abusive treatment, whether within family life for the developing child or for us as adults within the context of our relationship to our supervisor or an oppressive partner at home. Just as it interferes with healthy emotional maturation for someone to enjoy power disproportionate to their accountabilitythereby enabling continued physical growth over time without age-appropriate personality advancementit stifles the maturation process to endure the distress, especially the trauma, of disempowerment born out of toxic exposure to Unhealthy Power. Tragically, this too often occurs when someone is held harshly and unfairly responsible by another while not having sufficient power to change or escape the situation.
For example, a woman who is physically and/or emotionally abused within a domestic violence trap she is unable to escape soon learns to identify with her aggressor and internalizes a self-image in which it is safer to believe she deserves her cruel treatment than to oppose her oppressor. In such identification, as a defense against further abuse, she also learns to take responsibility for issues and problems she did not create, such as the misery of her abusive partner and/or the failings of her incompetent and controlling boss.
Excerpted from HEALTHY POWER by Craig N. Piso Copyright © 2012 by Craig N. Piso, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: P ... Personal Responsibility vs. Personal Irresponsibility....................9
Chapter 2: O ... Optimistic Expectations vs. Orchestrated Suffering....................25
Chapter 3: W ... W in-Win Relationships vs. Win-Lose Relationships....................45
Chapter 4: E ... Energizing Joy vs. Egocentric Pleasure....................67
Chapter 5: R ... Reality-Based Choices vs. Regressive Choices....................89
Chapter 6: F ... Focused Action vs. Fragmented Activity....................117
Chapter 7: U ... Unrelenting Courage vs. Unsettling Fear....................139
Chapter 8: L ... Lifelong Purpose vs. Lifelong Grasping....................161
Chapter 9: Conclusion....................183
About the Author....................205