Leadership and power are two different aspects of social status, and there is a constant interplay between them. Leadership maintains group cohesion and purpose and enables us to adapt in a changing environment. Power, on the other hand, is the ability to direct the resources of sub-ordinates to some purpose.
Many people actively seek social status which, as well as holding leadership obligations, also conveys power. The reasons are diverse and vary from individual to individual. For example, it might be a consequence of lacking a feeling of safety, the influence of upbringing, or the influence of a role model. However, the principal motivators are thought to be:
- A desire to be in control of one’s own affairs and freedom from social demands. Power enables one to enjoy the benefits of a co-operative society without the associated effort of negotiating and compromising with large numbers of other people. Rather, it is easier to negotiate with just a few in a hierarchy. Those who seek power for this reason can often be identified by their retiring nature, e.g., living in homes surrounded by security fencing and avoiding the media.
- A desire for control over the affairs of others as a means of obtaining positive regard. Such seekers of power have a tendency towards narcissism and publicity seeking. They enjoy their status and having others look up to them.
- The pursuit of resources. When people believe that they have insufficient resources to satisfy, and sustain the satisfaction of their personal needs, they will attempt to control the resources of others: i.e., their time, physical effort, mental effort, and property. We seek to satisfy our needs as efficiently as possible. From a personal perspective it is more efficient to do so using the resources of others, rather than our own. Although communities rely on reciprocal trading for the equitable satisfaction of their members’ needs, some members will use strategies to tilt the balance of reciprocation in their favour. They will, therefore, benefit inequitably from the resources of the group.
The drive to acquire social status is a natural part of the human psyche and the consequence of millions of years of evolution. In the past, it has enabled us to survive and prosper. It is a part of human nature. Without it we would be less than human, and we certainly lack the skills to design a better psyche. However, one component of social status, the drive to acquire power, now poses a threat to the future of humanity. The answer, however, is not to attempt to remove it by technical or psychological means. Nor is the answer the replacement of one ideology by another. Nor is it the replacement of particular individuals or groups by others, e.g., men by women, or the elite by the working class. This is because we all seek power to a greater or lesser degree. Rather, the answer is to put in place social controls and attitudes which will ensure that power does not eclipse the other aspect of social status, leadership. In this way requisite hierarchy can be made to benefit all of humanity and life on earth.