Power And Love: Is it Time for Bi-Lingual Leaders?

AdamKahane - Power And Love: Is it Time for Bi-Lingual Leaders?I was able to catch a talk by Adam Kahane at Global Business Network recently. His message about needing BOTH love and power in these times struck me as something all of us in the change business need to attend to. Adam is a consultant who wrote Solving Tough Problems four years ago about his experience applying scenario work to the South African situation before and after apartheid ended. He’s now with Generon Reos, continuing to address very challenging issues around the world with scenario work—which is fundamentally about surfacing and refreshing the core stories that people tell about what is plausible and possible.

The session was two days after the election, and the group of Bay Area consultants and futurists were palpably charged with excitement. Katherine Fulton, GBN partner who moderated the session provided some context. “Every so often there are moments in history where it is possible to hope. We are at one of those times.” She then asked Adam to talk about what he’s learned in the four years since, and to share what he is working on now.” The talk opened to some of the challenges that will come with this new opening of energy and movement we are experiencing.

Adam reported that he’s working on what he found was missing from his initial work with scenarios, which is addressing the issues of power. Scenario work, as Adam experiences it, is really about bringing people back to sense of connection with each other and the larger whole – at core about releasing love into a system. But he has discovered, in spite of having extraordinary experiences of breakthrough in understanding and connection between people, that when the questions of power and resources needed to be addressed, the process broke down. “It was as though the strong feelings of love and connection actually made the issue of power un-discussable.”

“My new book is basically unpacking a sentence that Martin Luther King wrote that points directly at this issue,” Adam said. Dr. King wrote:

Power without love is reckless and abusive.
Love without power is sentimental and anemic.

“My thesis is that if we want to address complex social challenges we need to be be bilingual about both power and love,” he continued. The rest of the talk explored his beginning observations from this frame, and how hard it is to hold both.

I began to think about Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process, and his contention that freedom and constraint are both parts of our universe. It is in understanding their connection that insight and innovation in human systems releases. Mechanisms pose power problems. Movement and motivation tap into our ability to feel and love. Yet it is through the mechanisms of our bodies and organizations and social systems that the energy of hope and change and love find expression.

One of the most hopeful things about Barack Obama is that he truly seems to be bilingual, fluent in both realms. Can organizational leaders come to this place as well?

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