Sources and Forms of Executive Power Failure

alias Abuses and Perversion of Organisational Power

This topic is incredibly fascinating for me. I have been doing quite a throughout research about it in order to better understand how my executive clients navigate themselves through this mined terrains with good intention and decency. And yet they can still easily fall for the traps, because the environment around them is messy, murky, complex, and ambiguous, plus leaders spend most of their time in doing mode, therefore, hardly able to observe or reflect on themselves in this arena.

The most common abuse of power is coming from the indulgence for the purpose of self-interest. While the most common perversion of power is about abdication for self-protection.

You may have had similar inner or outer dialogues before: “I have seen leaders to abuse their power this or that way, but I would never sink so low.” The truth is that the abuse of organisational power can emerge in such subtle forms and can be easily justified that even most decent people can find themselves toying with them in ways they might not recognize as abuse for example “There is no need to burden her with endless details – she just needs to know the key parts of story to make decision (i.e. the one he wanted her to make…….).

WARNING: The moment you believe you are above reproach (so you think you are irreproachable) and immune to temptation is the moment you become subject to power failure.

Let’s look at the sources and forms Executive Power Failure by Ron Carucci & Eric C. Hansen:

Power of source

Abuse: indulgence for self-interest

Takes the form of…..

Perversion: abdication for self-protection

Takes the form of.......

Positional Power


Self-aggrandizing – various forms of self importance e.g. taking credit for others’ work, get invited to important meetings etc.

Berating or belittling others -  e.g. condescending criticism, sarcasm, shouting or dramatic expressions like: “Do I have to do everyone’s job around here? Why can’t anyone deliver what’s expected in this place?”


Paralysis – this level of indecisiveness has crippling effect on the organisation

Over-inclusion – overly-used empowerment diffuses accountability, everybody is accountable so nobody is accountable….

Fear of making a mistake or disappointing others – executive must have sufficiently thick skin to withstand the inevitable disappointment and emotional residue that comes with unpopular decisions.


Extravagance – many executives struggle to know how to enjoy the material privileges that accompany their role. They overcompensate by either denying themselves the enjoyment or showing it off to others.

Immorality – power over others seems to invite feeling of immunity and amorality in some people e.g. having affairs at workplace, sexual harassment etc.


The individuals’ agenda override the company’s agenda - due to overuse of empowerment, obtaining yeses, like to be liked by others etc.

Tolerance of mediocre or poor performance – due to too many competing priorities, poorly allocated resources, lack of transparency, no consequences of poor performance, working in autopilot mode etc.

Relational Power


Using people to advance your own cause – it is easy to slip into a benevolent manipulation when leaders torn between wanting to direct and wanting to include.

Counter-dependence, Co-dependence

Behaving as if others don’t matter to you and you don’t need them, they are replaceable or as if others are indispensable to you and you can’t do anything without them or they without you.

e.g. Keeping others in arm lengths to avoid being vulnerable, or if you work hard to sustain an image of self-reliance.


Promising or providing others reward in return for loyalty, political support or compromising actions. “If you will back me on this…., I will support your request for…..” Such exchanges and compromises may seem harmless on the surface.


Stakeholder Blindness

Failure to recognize or sufficiently include key players whose support/input/advocacy you need as they are critical to your success. e.g. Sometimes when you don’t feel any pain so you assume the stakeholder relationship is strong, but you can be utterly mistaken. And also there will inevitably be relationships outside your field of vision you need to consider.

Informational Power


Twisting or withholding information to manipulate circumstances

There is a shift in informational power, from “who has the information” to “whose information will prevail”, although this is way to more complex e.g. balanced interpretation, analyses of data, painting a compelling picture, offering alternatives etc.

Another common form is the “I know a secret” game e.g. carefully dropping names, facts, and quotes although it plays the self-importance card you can easily dilute your credibility and believability.


Failure to listen and control flow and messaging that leads to confusion and uncertainty

One of the typical mistakes executives make is their failure to appreciate the organization’s capacity to misinterpret key messages despite how well-crafted and communicated they are especially in times of uncertainties. Are you listening with the intention to understand or to respond?



Threatening to use information to harm another

How many times we heard expressions e.g. “Oh, well, he knows where all the bodies are buried that’s why he hasn’t been fired.” or if you………., I highly recommend you to……….


Divulging confidences or ignoring senility of information,

Disregard for consequence of “executive gossip”

It is easy to slip verbal and non-verbal signs, comments on people, and issues without any intention to disclosing it or with the intention to help resolve the problem.


  • What are the worst abuses of power you have witnessed or been subject to? How did those abuses impact the organisation?
  • What subtle forms of abuses of power can you recognize in your organisation?
  • When have you been tempted to abuse or pervert you own power?
  • What would those you lead say about how you exercise your authority?


Source: Rising to Power: The Journey of Exceptional Executives by Ron Carucci & Eric C. Hansen


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