Thursday, August 16, 2012

Our Habitual Responses to Authority

by Miki Kashtan

I have known for some time now that the models of authority and leadership we have inherited are deeply flawed and fully embedded in the either/or paradigm which underlies our way of living. We lack forms, models, and habits of collaboration which are essential for transforming the way we use power. I have looked at some of the dilemmas and challenges that this presents to any of us who take on responsibility and leadership anywhere and want to do it with care and integrity. One of the obstacles to collaborative leadership that I have looked at is the tragic phenomenon of pervasive disempowerment which makes the challenge of collaborating from above that much more difficult. People hear demands when they are asked to do something by a leader; they remain cynical about efforts to solicit their input and participation in decision-making; or they persist in not expressing themselves honestly even when a leader is committed to creating a no reprisal environment.

Once I began to recover from my despair about not finding ways of changing relationships with people from my own position of limited power, I recognized, sadly, that the same forces that shape how those in power act also shape our responses to those in power. Unless we put deliberate attention into it, we accept without much questioning the notions of power that have been handed down to us as the only version of power there is. When I lead workshops about power, I almost invariably find that people have a deeply suspicious relationship to power. Invariably, this has been because of what they associate with power: lack of care for others, top-down unilateral decision-making, and power-over relationships. We accept, in particular, another either/or aspect of the prevalent power paradigm: that the only possible responses to power are submission or rebellion.