Barnaby vs Johnny: A study in the abuse of power

Tuesday 7th June, 2016

Power. It’s a fascinating phenomenon. We saw a terrible expression of it a couple of weeks ago when Johnny Depp, international star of behemoth proportions, chose to wield it and abuse it against Barnaby Joyce, farmer turned (former) Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources.

Don’t get me wrong, Mr Joyce is clearly nobody’s victim. He played agent provocateur and is not without his own cache of power as the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. The appalling part was the fact that Mr Depp thought it ok to maliciously exert his power supremacy in front of a global audience. He not only got deeply and nastily personal about someone with incomparably less global stature, he did it with casual playground cruelty. It was bad behaviour on a number of levels; 52 year-old Johnny was being a playground thug. And it was not ok.
placeholderIn the corporate world we see a lot of bad behaviours stemming from the abuse of power. It’s the manager who puts his feet up on his desk when addressing his team, it’s the big client who ‘negotiates’ (read: screws) the suppliers down to almost no margin and it’s the boss who regularly makes people cry in one-on-ones. You know the people I am talking about. Power abusers do things because they can, irrespective of basic decency.

Ironically, the real measure of power is the power that is not exercised. A manager tells, a leader influences – which one are you and who do you want to be?

Moreover, the measure of a person is not by their power; when was the last time you heard someone say, 'X is great, she/he is so powerful'?

This blog is not about delving into the psychology of people who think it’s ok to behave badly from a position of power. This is about calling it out, rejecting it and trying to get to a better place by talking about it. To that end, here are some things I try to live by:

1. It’s never ever ok to get personal, especially not from a leadership position
2. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should – be wise enough to think about and know the difference. What do you want people to remember you for: power or wisdom?
3. Yes, it’s important to be commercial and reduce spending, but the best deals are those that both parties smile about as they walk away from the table
4. There is no need to bring the ‘army’ when a diplomatic solution is sufficient; the ability to really influence an outcome without putting anyone offside is the most powerful skill of all.

 And the art of influence? That’s a blog for another day.


Sacha Faulkner is a Client Services Director at Evolve Intelligence.