Can power be controlled?

Humans have long been fascinated by the dynamism of free-flowing waters. Yet we have expended great effort to tame rivers for transportation, water supply, flood control, agriculture, and power generation. Poff et al, 2008, The Natural Flow Regime

 Sometimes life develops as if designed by us. We feel we are in a flow. At other times, things happen that push our life into disarray. We feel we are loosing control. As we fight against feelings of powerlessness we respond by identifying problems developing and implementing a solution for its control.

Control is profoundly ingrained within most existing human societies: we attempt to control unlawful or unsustainable actions  through laws, incentives, threats, contracts, and agreements;; we try to control our food supplies through growing and storing agricultural products; we endeavor to control parasites and pathogens through medical technologies. We try and control our relationships, the behaviors of our children, our bodies and our emotions.

When a problem is well-bounded, clearly defined and relatively simple, with linear relationships between cause and effect these control mechanisms appear to be successful. But once we step into a greater systems perspective we see that when these same methods of control are applied to complex, non-linear, and poorly understood systems, severe ecological and social impacts and inequalities can occur.

For example, the inhibition of fire in fire-prone ecosystems is quite efficient in reducing the short-term probability of fires, yet at the same time the resulting build-up of vegetation over large areas can in time bring about fires of an extreme intensity with a detrimental impact on both ecological and human systems. Similarly, a long term control and suppression of emotions within the body can lead to toxic levels of chemicals within the body affecting the immune system, the endocrine system and every other system in your body.

As we track our leadership for sustainable journey, I believe it is worthwhile to note how we react to and integrate our experiences of a lack of power and control. We need to notice what is no longer functional in serving the individuals, the whole of the (global) society and nature. We need to see how we repond to these issiues through a command and control linear way of thinking and we need to open to a more systemic perspective.

Most sustainability issues are deeply embedded with other, related and semi-related issues, they are dynamic and ever evolving, and nested in the context of multiple social, political, economic, and institutional systems. When we absent a systemic approach that recognizes these attributes of complexity and the reality that multiple actors in diverse places and institutions have varying interests and capabilities, our initiatives are not likely to have the impact we truly desire.

Ask yourself these questions:

Where are you attempting to assert control over people and circumstances which are out of the sphere of your influence?

How are your attempts at more linear form of control creating fires of conflict and reducing diversity within yourself, your intimate relationships, and your multi-stakeholder collaborations?

How could letting go off control allow new life to flow into your world?

This blog post looks at the dimension of WHOLENESS and zooms into its aspect of CONTEXTUALITY at the individual level of the Collective Leadership Compass For more information on the Art of Leading Collectively, checkout the inside the book and  reviews on, or get inspired by an onsite course that takes the compass into the daily challenges of navigating complex change.

Categories: Accessing our humanity, Living the six capacities of Collective Leadership, and Sensing the whole.

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