The power trap


I think it is perhaps worth taking some time to discuss what I mean by power. The wikipedia definition seems apt[2]:

  • Simply starting meetings in the absence of any other meeting director
  • Declaring standards, and providing “helpful critical analysis” to those who do not adhere to them.
  • Replacing new tools with tools that I favor


Of recent I have been in both positions of increased and decreased social power, by virtue of moving countries. I went from a position of:

  • Wealth → Poverty
  • Expertise → Skepticism
  • Understanding → Ignorance

The trap

To retain a modicum of self respect, I need to you, dear reader to understand: I either love, or at least respect all of those around me. I wish ill of no one, and when I find myself in a moment in which I am not working to the best of those around me, I feel nothing but shame.

  • What technical solution to recommend and implement as a software engineer
  • What questions to pose to colleagues during review sessions
  • What documentation to write in the communal docs
  • What things to celebrate or condemn

The consequences

As I reflect on the different roles I have played, I can see the negative ramifications of the decisions that I make.

Strategies to limit power

This article has hopefully been a lesson in the dangers of accruing social power. It would be reasonable then to list some of the strategies that I am adopting to try and limit how far I fall into the trap once again;

  • I try and remove any notion that power is something to strive toward, or to feel proud of. We all accrue power as we accrue expertise; it’s my duty to shed it. Holding onto it is selfish.
  • Remove both the personal celebratory and condemnatory nature of decisions. By deferring these things to the team instead of personally, power is also delegated.
  • Delegate control to a process, and management of that process to a committee. This is an immediate deference to those who by nature do not have the same abilities to influence that I otherwise have, and requires some accountability.
  • Set aside time to find and shed power. The above reflections have only been because I find the topic inherently interesting, and have found inspirational figures that have required this self reflection. Absent this (extremely lucky) chance, I am unable to discover these issues.


  • While this post takes an extremely critical look at myself, and by extension those around me I think that they do a remarkable job of managing this trap. This post is a self reflection, and an invitation for others to reflect — not to criticize others.
  • I mention mechanisms that I have both accrued and exploit power. I do this with care, and have mechanisms deliberately setup to help shed whatever power I do accrue.
  • Social power is correlated with administrative position within an organisation, but it is not causal.

One final reflection

This article was painful to write, not because of the realization that I am a flawed person — this was apparent to me quite some time ago. However, the painful realization I have had as I’m writing this article again is that I am falling into the exact same trap.




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