Tuesday, 7 April 2015

With great power comes great responsibility

Power has an important role to play in the business world, especially in the context of leadership. Leaders need power in order to get results, but they also need to be accountable for the results of that power and understand the value in empowering others. 

In broad strokes, power can be used in two ways, for good or for evil, and we are all familiar with the great examples of power and leadership found in the annals of superheroes. 

There are lessons to be learned from all the great superheroes. Whether your power lies in resources, money and people or an exceptional strength unique to you; whether you operate in openness and honesty with transparency that earns the trust and loyalty of others like Iron Man or you are more like Batman, working behind the scenes, overcoming obstacles while remaining unknown, a symbol of a shared belief or goal. 

Superheroes can have intrinsic superpowers like Superman, or have gained them through some seeming misfortune like Spiderman or simply use the strengths at their disposal to achieve a goal like Batman or Iron Man; they can work together in teams like the Avengers or with side-kicks like Batman and Robin. But they are all “good”, using their power to benefit others never themselves, predominantly through self-imposed moral standards. The takeaway – anyone can be a leader if they use the power they have to lead by example.

Problems arise when someone wants all the power for themselves, it becomes not the way in which they achieve a goal but the goal itself, and thus a supervillain is born. The supervillain uses people with no regard for who they are and their potential strengths are seen only as a means to a personal end; they use their power or resources to manipulate others into meeting their own agendas, blaming others for every failure and hoarding all the praise for every success. Most of us have worked with or for “leaders” like this in our careers.

Perhaps in business, the answer lies more in teams of leaders, like the X-men, all with their own unique powers and one person whose purpose is to bring them together and teach them how to share that power and how to bring their own special strength to the fore when the need arises.


Power itself is neither good nor evil; it is how it is wielded by those who have it that sets the tone. Part of being a good leader, and a good superhero, is the ability to work with others, sharing power and responsibility and inspiring others to believe in something bigger than themselves. When wielding your power, are you a superhero or a supervillain?

*As published in Accountancy South Africa magazine in September 2014


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