Tag Archives: Power

Power and Narcissism: Can Hollywood Be Honest with Themselves and Us?

I wonder how long it will take for a movie to be made that uses Harvey Weinstein‘s persona as the basis for the movie. I wonder if Hollywood can be honest with themselves in this movie about how they have contributed to a culture where sometimes, a woman is put in a position of having to serve a man sexually in order to get what she needs or wants. An example is in Forrest Gump, where Forrest’s mom trades sex with the school superintendent to get Forrest into the local school. After sex, the superintendent says to Forrest, “You mommy sure does care about your schoolin’ son.” The movie never explicitly portrays this as sexual abuse, but it is nevertheless. It’s a man with power taking advantage of a woman who lacks power.

When any given man (or woman – Martha Stewart is a good example) amasses too much power, his chances of becoming narcissistic is quite high. Men with power abusing women who lack power is well known and not uncommon: JFK, Jim Bakker, Bill Clinton and King Henry VIII come to mind. The proverbial “casting couch” also comes to mind – and that was Mr. Weinstein’s modus operandi (here and here). The fact that a casting couch was both well known and accepted in Tinseltown is an implicit admission that the entire industry has accommodated men like Mr. Weinstein for decades.

Countless movies portray women as sexual objects whose value is found primarily in the man’s selfish enjoyment of their body parts. Their core role is portrayed as serving the man’s narcissistic needs even while it injures the woman – the Huffington Post reports on the phrase “making women ‘rape-ready'”. Nearly all pornography promotes this narrative and it is estimated that roughly 10% of all internet traffic is pornographic (an opposing view puts it at 35%), so it’s no wonder that Mr. Weinstein’s behavior was minimized for so many years. I suspect most of the men in Hollywood are regular consumers pornography, so it probably seemed more natural to them that a casting couch existed in the first place.

But if those with power don’t abuse women sexually, they certainly abuse in other ways. Men like Martin Shkreli, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and others abused thousands (perhaps millions collectively) through their financial schemes and they didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. This is one of the core points of the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work” – these people (usually men, but not always) have significant talent and charisma that causes others around them to look the other way when their peccadillos and abusive behavior is known, but isn’t damaging the organization as a whole. So, those around them have a choice: Either confront this highly talented man about his abusive behavior or look the other way. I think those around them conclude that either A) he is too powerful to confront or B) he is bringing so much good to the table (in one sense) that his abusive behaviors are are seen as minimal by comparison.

Power and narcissism is especially harmful in churches and ministries, where, I don’t like saying, my experience is that a plurality of Pastors and ministry leaders can be both abusive and power-hungry guys. They start out well-intentioned, but as their ministries grow, they change. They are usually very gifted communicators with significant leadership abilities. Their theology and exegesis are impeccable. But their public lives can be highly choreographed which hides their narcissism. Privately – don’t cross them or you *will be* on the receiving end of a rather unpleasant experience. I’ve been there several times. It’s not sexual harassment, but it is abuse nevertheless. Experience it enough times and you conclude its’ easier just to sit in the pew and be blissfully ignorant of all the dirt that’s going on behind closed doors. Power and narcissism don’t stop at the front door of a church or ministry.

Politics is filled with elected officials who are both powerful and narcissistic. Our election system is geared to elevate Snakes in Suits. Both parties, mind you, elect these people. Even though the Snakes in Suits book doesn’t allude to this, I was struck by how much what they describe in the book is actually applauded and pursued in our political system. Power and narcissism is apolitical. The fact that a sitting President of the United States could engage in sexual acts (I think harassment solely due to the power imbalance) with an intern working in the White House, lie to the nation about it and then have an entire political party defend his actions is an example of the Snakes in Suits principles on full display.

Sexual harassment is about power and narcissism, not sex. Mr. Weinstein is not a sex addict as much as he is a power addict with lots of narcissism baked in. He expresses his power and narcissism through sexual acts, but he would be no less destructive had he expressed himself in other ways. Hollywood may very well make a movie based on his life, but I doubt they will really deal with the larger issue of people in power who develop significant narcissism and the damage it does to others as well as themselves. You and I see it and experience it every so often in our grassroots lives, but I wonder if Hollywood will be able to get to our grassroots level and become real with us and with themselves.

I’m not holding my breath.

When Leadership Provides Status, Meaning and Power, it’s Hard to Give Up

For the senior generation in a family business, their leadership in their business and family has provided status, meaning, power, and other rewards. Hence, the greatest impediments to peaceful transitions are the senior leaders’ fear of losing it all.

Their dual role as a leader in the family gives them a sense of “specialness” that comes with the leader’s belief that he or she is uniquely qualified to lead. Status and specialness reinforce each other and the two combined is a core reason why the senior generation often stays on in the family business well after they should. Couple that with the second generation’s ambivalence as to when is the right time to ask mom and dad to step aside and it becomes easy to see why the family system supports the putting off of the necessary transition until there is no other choice.

This is why Christian Business Owners are taught to hold their business with an open hand – an entrustment from the Lord who is the ultimate HR director of their company. When a business owner walks closely with the Lord and values His direction more than the perks of ownership, when God calls the owner to retire and focus on something else, the owner more easily lets go of his position.

I’m not saying it is easy – just that it is easier because the personal value system of a Christian Business Owner is different from others – or at least it should be.

Status and power are fleeting. Meaning in life should come from our identity in Christ and a deep sense of fulfilling our calling before Him. Leadership is about service to others – not being the top-dog who gets the limelight. For Christians, our transformation in the Lord ought to change us to recognize what status and power really are: temporary and worldly constructs that will not last into eternity.

Think about men such as Napoleon, Hitler, Charlemagne, Nebuchadnezzar, Mao Zedong and others….men who would have become God had they been able to. Yet only one God became man – Jesus Christ. Our example of leadership, power and status is one who gave it all up in order to accomplish God’s will. We should be the same as Him. Philippians is helpful at this point:

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

The mature Christian Business Owner will recognize when it is time to move on – time to leave his business to his children (or sell it) and take the next steps of obedience to Christ. Power, status, meaning and rewards will pale in comparison to what he (or she) has with the Lord.

If you’re a Christian Business Owner who knows it is time to transition out of your business but you’re having a hard time doing so, then please draw near to God and let Him transform your hear, your values, your identity – everything about you. You’ll then find that giving up the business when He calls you to do so will be the right step and you’ll take it in boldness and confidence, knowing that God has His hand on you and is working “all things together for good”.

Bill English

Scalability, Power, Control and Risk

Along with his wife, Mark is co-owner of a $1.8M retail establishment that they built from the ground up by investing their own monies and getting two SBA (Small Business Administration) loans. One is a “7A” loan designed to make initial investments into the business. Of the initial $320K, after 2.5 years, Mark still has $220K of that money sitting in a bank account.

Mark has a difficult time trusting other people. His father abandoned him at birth and his mother died when he was twelve years old. He’s on his third marriage (this is her second) and working together in their business over the last few years has taken its’ toll on both of them. Because it is a retail business, they have been at their business seven days/week for over two years. By all appearances, they are not doing well. The jury is out on whether or not their marriage can survive working together in the business they have built. It is profitable and growing. But the personal toll it has taken on them is substantial.

As a business grows, more managers need to be brought in to run parts of the business. You don’t hire good people to tell them what to do, you hire good people so they can tell you what to do. Mark is good at hiring good people, but then he micro manages them right out of the business. He always blames them for his failures. Mark is a moving target with his directives and selectively enforces his rules. His employees don’t like him and don’t like working for him. They avoid him as much as possible, which can be difficult to do when he is roving around the store all day.

Mark wears multiple hats – marketing, floor manager, cash management, vendor relations, facilities manager and so forth. It appears that he loves working all the time. But again, their business is killing their marriage.

Mark and Nancy have reached the “Transition Point” – the point at which they need to either be happy with the size and scope of their business or they need to let go and allow someone else to run their business. They readily admit that they are unable to “take it to the next level” yet they won’t let go of simple spending decisions, hiring decisions or firing decisions. They have hired an outside consultant to be their CEO, but he is CEO in title only. They simply won’t step back and allow others to make important decisions. “If he (the hired CEO) fails, we’re the ones left holding the bag”. They’re right.

From my perspective, their most important priority here is their marriage. Businesses come and go, but marriages do not (or at least, should not). But since their life savings is wrapped up in this business, it has become the core of their marriage. If the business fails, they lose everything – their marriage, money and livelihood. At age 60, they will not be able to recover from such a failure.

So, what should they do?

First, they should take time away from their business to work on their marriage.

Secondly, they need to make a basic decision about growing their business vs. selling it. If they choose to grow, then they need to choose to trust other people to make decisions with “their baby”. If they choose to sell, it will take at least a year to get the business ready for sale, which means they will need to continue to work in the business long enough to sell it. They put at risk their marriage by doing so.

Thirdly, they need to develop some personal, outside activities so that they are growing personally, not always being together every hour of every day.

Lastly, if they choose to keep their business, they need to learn to step aside and let others run their business. They need to stop micro managing every aspect of their business. The problem they will face here is an emotional one: can they let go and trust? Can they manage the anxiety this step creates in them in a positive and mature way?

The worst situation for them is what they have now: they have hired a CEO but won’t get out of the way and let him manage their business. They won’t let go. They won’t risk. Mark is too tied emotionally to the $200K as his security. The CEO is unable to make sensible infrastructure investments, so they continue to struggle with manual processes fraught with mistakes. They have weekly power struggles, paying good money for a highly talented person whom they are micro managing. He won’t last long – he’s too talented and smart to be micro managed. But without a true leader in their business, it won’t scale up and while they might win the power struggles (because they are, after all, the owners), they will have defeated themselves.

If you’re a Christian Business Owner and you find yourself in a similar situation, its’ imperative that you learn to trust others and let go when needed. Good stewardship sometimes requires us to trust and allow others to lead in our business. Only then will you find yourself able to scale up your business and increase it as God asks of us in Luke 19.

Bill English

image_pdf