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June 02, 2003
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Power and Uncertainty

Power flows to the people who control uncertainty. That was the wisdom of French sociologist Michel Cozier a generation ago. It is a fascinating and powerful maxim, which anyone can study and adapt as a cornerstone of success.

In exploring the meaning of that comment, the first question that comes up is what does "power" really mean, especially in a local government? In the HR Doctor’s view, it means some combination of being able to get things done, being able to develop a vision of what could be, and being able to share that vision articulately with others. It also means being able to enlist other people to help make the vision a reality. In addition, power is about the formal status or rank structure in an organization. Finally, power refers to charisma or presence.

These are the qualities that cause others to look to the leader for hope and the expression of ideas that others cannot express as well. All of these ingredients, when combined in one person, create the person we want to vote for, work for, or seek out for support and help.

Which came first, the power or the rank? The answer may depend on whether you operate a farm that produces eggs or raises chickens for market.

The idea of power manifesting itself as the ability to control uncertainty for people is a very important concept. It is one which transcends political power or whether a person is an elected or appointed official. It goes to relationships inside a community, in private businesses, inside a family or in one-to-one interaction with a spouse, a child, a neighbor or a workplace colleague.

Every one of us shares a common need to know how we stand in an increasingly complicated world. Every one of us must ask, "How am I doing?" "Am I OK?" Answering those questions is a very fundamental role for a person who supervises other people, a parent in relation to a child, or an elected or an appointed official in terms of organizational leadership.

Fundamentally, a leader’s job is to continue to answer that question for others in a way which compels action on the part of that other person. It’s no different as a public administrator than it is as a medical doctor. You visit a doctor seeking answers. The training, experience, and charisma of the physician helps provide answers. This assumes, of course, that you can get a referral from your HMO!

The HR Doctor’s experience is that leaders are not test tube creations with genetic predispositions to be in charge. Rather, leaders in the making can learn and grow in their ability to control uncertainty for others and discharge the other responsibilities that come with leadership described earlier in this article. Learning to be a leader begins with some basic principles for success. Here are several of the waypoints on the leadership roadmap.

First, seek out others as mentors and teachers to help you learn new things, develop new ideas, and broaden your viewpoint about other people and the world around us. Second, practice the skills of a communicator: writing clearly and concisely, and speaking with confidence, passion and humor. These are essential ingredients in the concept of charisma.

These are also required skills for a person who is nervous about speaking in front of others. This person can overcome the public-exposure reticence by various techniques associated with, for example, public speaking groups like "Toastmasters." Involvement with civic groups such as Rotary, Lions, Soroptomists, or Kiwanis can provide opportunities to engage and network with others. This, in turn, can help overcome the effects of "severe acute rhetoric syndrome" (SARS).

Practice the art of saying thank you to people, of recognizing their contributions and of appreciating their helpfulness. Make that an everyday occurrence at home and at work. Surprise others in pleasant ways by exceeding their expectations.

Harness the power of the 80/20 principle as a key approach to better organizing your own life and of focusing on activities more likely to bring success. See the HR Doctor article called "Applying the Pareto Principle" at

Another key ingredient to a "success soufflé" was the subject of the HR Doctor article "Public Enemy No. 2." Deliberate attention to overcoming the effects in our lives of Isaac Newton’s principle of inertia is a very important key to unlocking the leadership potential in all of us. This is especially true for the young future leaders of the society who, perhaps, are more susceptible to infection by the inertia virus.

There are more fundamental principles – perhaps the subject of a future HR Doctor article. However, in the meantime, do your homework and practice some of the aspects of leadership every single day, beginning at home as well as in the community, and the government office building.

The HR Doctor hopes you enjoy the challenge of creating your own success soufflé, but also the joy and the contribution which results when you taste its sweet richness.

All the best,

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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