The New Year: The Object of Power

Orwell said:

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.  Power is not a means; it is an end.  One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.  The object of persecution is persecution.  The object of torture is torture.  The object of power is power.

Once empowered, as we discussed before in this blog, what would you do with it?  Use it to beneficial means?  Punish your detractors?  Lift the world?

Legitimate power, in the sense of leading others, is limited to the amount of leverage your followers will permit you. Granted, you can dismiss those who don’t agree with you in some cases, but the shouting never goes away.  The powerful may believe themselves to be so, but the mighty can at once be chopped down by the feeble. If you doubt that, there are hundreds of stories in which this can be shown to be true.

I’m not impressed because there’s a bridge named after you, or a building, or even a document.  Maybe if your image is imprinted on currency, that might change things.  But the truly powerful are so because they have empowered others and that lasting image of mentorship, of fostering knowledge, of truly leading others, because others have granted you that privilege, well, that is real power.

Only the truly transformative and engaging leaders can provide that kind of experience, where their vision is communicated and moved forward by others.  This is a concept that transcends professionalism; it is embracing leadership as a calling.  Do you want to be an ordinary leader, or one that is powerful?  Leadership at this level requires commitment, honesty to self, and an understanding of the world.  It’s yours if you can embrace change, open yourself up to it, and to set the example to others.

Happy New Year.  Lead on.  We’re watching.


  • Jon Marsh says:

    Very good Chief as always ! One line grabbed me like a cold beer on a hot day..”where their vision is communicated and carried forward by others.” That pretty much defines a leader, but I have never thought about it that way. Now, the more I think about it, one could define a teacher or parent in the same manner. Thanks for such provocation. Wish you could put it all in a book and publish it. You bring to mind some of my Fire Chiefs I recall as a very young man and their seemingly natural wisdom, humor, and often expressed appreciation sprinkled with encouragement and enthusiasm. They too left a forever empowering confidence with instructions to always share what you learn with others.

  • Great thought-provoking post to kick off what is sure to be another tumultuous year for us in the Fire Service!

    Your post sounds like you’ve already heard/read it, but for those who haven’t, here’s a related talk on that rarefied (2%) of those who lead from the “5th tribe” perspective.

    I’ve become a new student of leadership in the fire service and recently stumbled upon your blog. I really enjoy your style. Keep up the good work and all the best in 2011!

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