Situation 1: You are caught by a traffic cop while you are trying to race through the red light. He has three options at that time: To fine you for jumping the signal or to ask for a small bribe to ‘settle’ the matter or to just let you go, may be, with a verbal warning. Haven’t we seen cops exercising one of these options from time to time? Now think about this—by levying a fine and providing you a proper receipt, his revenue objective (given by his bosses) is met. And by taking a small bribe, he earns some additional money. But what does he get by simply letting you off?
Situation 2: A child has not finished his homework and his teacher finds it out. She has some options as well: To punish the child (like asking him to stand-up for the entire period or asking him to stand outside the class etc.), or to send a note to the parents reporting non-completion of homework or simply pardon the child! Why would she opt for the pardoning route?
Situation 3: Your school going daughter demands an expensive gadget from you—something that you can afford with some stretch but it is not something that you would normally buy her on your own i.e. without her insistence on having it. And then you actually end up buying it for her.
Situation 4: You are a first time people manager. As part of your new role, you get to decide salary rises for employees within your span of control, sanction/reject their leave requests, make decisions on which training programmes they should be nominated for etc. Also, as part of your new role, you have budgetary responsibilities for your department/function, you get to set annual objectives for your department etc. Question: what are your precise feelings when you make specific decisions that directly affect individual employees—say granting salary hikes, approving leave claims etc.
Situation 5: You are walking on a footpath that leads towards a bus stop, where you want to catch a bus to your destination. And you suddenly realise that the bus you wanted to catch, stops next to you, owing to a traffic jam. Your natural instinct draws you towards the bus and you make an attempt to board it, even if it is not a designated /official stop. Your behavior being not consistent with the rule, the bus conductor doesn’t allow you to board and asks you to walk up to a proper bus stop to catch the bus. However, in a similar situation, if you were to first ask for conductor’s prior permission to board the bus(before attempting to board it on your own) he would have had two options: either to allow you to board or disallow. In that case, he allows you to board!
Is there something common in the above situations that look seemingly disparate?
When I ponder, I do find a common thread. A thread that clearly tells me that people derive subtle but definite satisfaction out of holding power to influence someone’s destiny! I know, destiny is a big word, but I say it in a limited context of a small part of life—even though it may be short lived or many a time not so significant/profound E.g. with reference to the cop’s example above—when the cop lets go the defaulter without any penal action, he actually makes a small difference to the defaulter’s life, and he knows it, more so, he enjoys that feeling.
In the other situation, when the daughter was gifted the thingamajig, the father’s behaviour wasn’t predominantly motivated by a desire to grant her wish, as much as a motivation(almost compelling one) to feel reassured that he had a wherewithal to make a difference to one part of her life! As a (loving) father of two daughters I hate to believe in my own argument, but I know it represents an intricate reality of what is generally wrapped within commonly known ‘power motivation.’
And now let me add another twist. We all are judgmental, sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly. When Sachin Tendulkar gets out chasing an outswinger, almost every such time we pass judgments like ‘he shouldn’t have even attempted to play that ball’ or ‘he was right in going for that shot and would have even succeeded, but for the uneven bounce on the wicket’ and so on. Or, when Lata Mangeshkar sings a racy number, our verdict goes like ‘it doesn’t befit her stature’ or ‘a song is song—how does it matter what genre it belongs to?’ etc. We keep passing such judgments, but, most of the times lack an ability to execute any tangible actions arising from those, since many such possible actions are completely beyond our scope of influence. However, there are many situations where we possess a capability of executing our judgments. E.g. in the above example of traffic police: clearly, the fact that the cop stopped the commuter, shows, that in his judgment, the wrong act was committed. He also had capability of taking punitive (in this case) action, which could have been a logical consequence of his judgment that an act in contravention of law was committed. And yet, he chose to let go the defaulter. Why? That is simply because, people in power positions (even though some of those may at times be just the perceived power positions!),like to enjoy freedom to act in a self- empowered manner—and many a time such acts of theirs could actually be against the normative frameworks or to use a simple term, against the applicable rules. However, I am not necessarily suggesting that the human nature/bahaviour, by definition, gravitates towards anarchy. It simply means that even within the set rules, laws etc. people like to have their own ways of dealing with deviations.
Now if we combine the following two phenomena:
‘Intrinsic drive to influence personal lives (in fact, most of the times, fractions of lives) of others’
‘A need to feel free and empowered to pardon non-normative behaviours of others, despite having an ability to enforce norms,’
we can clearly appreciate how important it is to understand these fine aspects of ‘Power Motivation.’
Indeed, more we think, experience and reflect on the real life we live/face, more we realise how difficult(almost impossible!) it is to wrap all such finer aspects of human behaviours in theoretical forms. That’s precisely the beauty of human behaviours and that’s the challenge as well!