The undoing of our own power

Who knows how the protests in Istanbul’s Taksim square will end. Hopefully without violence. Regardless of their immediate outcome, the protests have succeeded in starting the long, slow decline of Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authority. As I have written many times, most recently in You’re not the boss of me now, “if you use it, you lose it.” Erdogan, like other hard line leaders, thinks that being in a position of power means they’ve earned the right to exercise authority.  But it doesn’t work like that. Power is not just legitimized through elections or the law. Power has to be legitimized through our behavior, each time we use it. Legitimate power is formal authority  coupled with personal power, or what Hannah Arendt called moral authority.  Thomas Friedman, in this piece in the New York Times yesterday, offers this quote from Dov Seidman, author of the book “How” on the difference between formal and moral authority.

Moral authority is something you have to continue to earn by how you behave, by how you build trust with your people. … Every time you exercise formal authority — by calling out the police — you deplete it. Every time you exercise moral authority, leading by example, treating people with respect, you strengthen it.

Whether we’re parents or prime ministers, teachers or CEOs, the minute we use power, unmoored from influence or moral authority, we have started the process of our own undoing.


One Response so far.


  1. I wish the leaders who abuse their power and use violence against their own people could read what you and others have written and take note! They must be so scared to lose their positional power that they they think any means to hang onto it is ok. How sad. Thanks Julie.

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