MY NEXT BOOK – Year 9, Chapter 19…The Power of Paradox, The Paradox of Power
March 4, 2014
In Halftime-the book and the Institute-I use Charles Handy’s Sigmoid Curve to illustrate the change-of-season that most successful people experience. One of the paradoxes of success, Handy writes in The Age of Paradox, is that what got you there seldom is what keeps you there.
So the secret to continued growth, Handy advises, is to have started your next Sigmoid Curve before the first one looses steam. Look at this diagram. At point A, you’ve begun your second curve before the current curve has a chance to dip downward. Your second curve begins in a buffer zone, when you have the time, resources and energy to explore and flounder and eventually rise.
Tom Luce, who left the board of Leadership Network to be Assistant Secretary of Education, said to me a few years back that my greatest challenge ahead would be “letting go,” as I transfer management of the organization I had founded. That brings me to the subject of power.
All of us want it: the power to influence, the power to get our phone calls returned, the power to check through those lists that are important to us. The Gospel of Matthew recounts Jesus’ confrontation of the devil’s three tests (the Big Three are money, fame, and power) at the beginning of Jesus’s work, he dangled power to attempt to divert Jesus from his mission.
And the more things change, the more they stay the same.
For a long time I have met for a monthly breakfast with a small group of men in a high rise club overlooking Dallas. One month several years ago the topic was power and our leader, a well-known money manager, set it up this way:
“Recently, in counseling with a young man, I concluded that his greatest goal was to have power. At the end of our meeting, I told him that power was a byproduct of effort, skill, energy, and time. I further stated that you don’t just decide to be powerful. Was I correct?”
Boom . . . discussion breaks out, and I’m taking notes as fast as I can.
“No one wants to give power to someone who grasps for it.”
-CEO of a public company
“In my work, I see a lot of antisocial behavior. Most of these (people) end up in prison.”
“Look at Rick Warren. He made millions on The Purpose Driven Life. He didn’t change his lifestyle. He gave 20 years of his salary back to his church and he set aside 90 percent for ministry projects like AIDS in Africa. He might be the most powerful guy in U.S. Christianity today. He gained power by giving it away.”
“Look at Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi.”
“Bob Strauss once told me about power: ‘If you ever have to use it, you just lost it.'”
-Attorney quoting the legendary Washington power broker
“You get more of it by giving it away.”
“I have always thought it fortunate that being a good steward was also good business.”
– The money manager
At that table that morning, most of us had a strong sense of the power paradox: that it flees from those who grasp for it and accrues to those who surrender it in the service of their mission on earth.
Frances Hesselbein said when I interviewed her for Finishing Well: “The mission comes first.” Frances is an authority on leadership, and she also said:
“I have a very strong belief that we are called to do what we do, and when we’re called, we’re given the energy. And when we’re no longer called, we will not have the energy.”
As for me, I’ve decided that just about all that will be left of me when I leave this earth is what I let go of to invest in the lives of others. The fruit of my life and my work will grow on other people’s trees. It’s not easy, sometimes, this letting go. It’s a paradox; but my life so far demonstrates to me that it works.
So What About You?
If you had been with us at the breakfast that morning and joined in the discussion on power, what would you have said?
Do you have a clear sense of purpose for your life? If so, what temptation most threatens to pull you away? If not, why not?
Wise Thoughts and Good Advice
From King Richard II (Act III, Scene ii), my favorite passage from Shakespeare about power:
“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos’d; some slain in war;
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos’d;
Some poison’d by their wives; some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court, and there the antick sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!”
Halftime.org – How many Sigmoid Curves have begun at the Halftime Institute? The Institute is two intense days with fellow Halftimers to explore your second half purpose in the company of seasoned guides. After that, to keep momentum, Halftime is a full year of personal coaching and “peer calls” as you continue to look and develop.
Leadnet.org – Here you can see all we’re involved in at Leadership Network and tap into lots of free leadership resources. Our work is to identify the great innovators in American Christianity, to connect them, and to multiply what they are learning through teaching and idea exchange.
ACTIVEenergy.net – My personal site archives all prior newsletters and gives access to most everything I am thinking about and working on now.