about   |   mailing list   |   writing   |   archives

Power Plays

Hawaii: The ultimate power play

It’s always interesting to watch power plays in action – people who want to communicate their assumed authority over an individual or group. You can find power plays in the workplace, on stage, sometimes whole events are based around the assumption of authority.

For example:
– Look out for the person at an event who hovers by the door greeting people as they enter – regardless of whether they are the event host – the implied host.
– Subtle put-downs that trivialises the contribution of others
– At Pop!Tech Johathan Greenblatt (Director to the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation) prefaced his talk with a classic power play – by thanking the organisers for being invited to the event, and by then leading the audience in a round of applause for the organiser’s good work – reinforcing his (apparent) authority to bless the work of others
– Award ceremonies. The World Technology Network Awards event in NYC that I attended last week is the crassest, most commercial example of an apparent authority I’ve come across to date – awards handed out by its organiser who wants to be seen handing out awards to people who want to be seen receiving them. It’s a simple formulae, but unsustainable in a world where more of the demographic that attends communicates over the back-channel.

Done well – power plays serve a purpose: to position the player in a leadership role, which can then be leveraged for the greater good. Done badly it can come across as having an oversized ego; highlight raw ambition (and everything that implies in terms of stepping on others around them to get where they want to be); a degree of emotional immaturity; and/or professional frustration in where that person is currently at and where they think they should be.