Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change

by Adam Kahane, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010.

Adam Kahane spoke about Power and Love to a Sydney Leadership audience at The Benevolent Society earlier this year. After two decades of work with seemingly intractable conflicts around the world, Kahane understands the challenge of wedding principles to practicalities.

He pins the failures of the Copenhagen climate change summit to bring together the greenies’ love camp with the industrialists’ power camp. Rhetorical pleas to save the planet for our grandchildren are not enough to overcome the powerful economic and political interests that exist today. The unmitigated failure in Copenhagen to induce both camps reveals his thesis: it takes both power and love to progress.

Through his experiences working on climate change, judicial reform, indigenous rights, and peacemaking, Kahane recounts instances where problems remain stuck. He argues that each of these demonstrate the imbalance of power and love. The challenge, of course, is to skillfully apply one or the other, or both, when needed. He cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who wrote: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

Kahane employs definitions from the philosopher Paul Tillich who defines power as: “the drive of everything living to realise itself, with increasing intensity and extensity,” and love as: “the drive towards the unity of the separated.” In other words, love is the urge to honour connection and power is the resolve to achieve one’s purpose.

Although full of opportunities for reflection, this book should not be mistaken for a how-to guide to lead social change. The book is weak on describing the options of how to rebalance. To shift from a love imbalance he writes: “…involves shifting from ‘someone should’ to ‘I will’…stepping from love’s connected feeling of warm belonging, to power’s lonely feeling of putting on cold armor to do battle with the world, our colleagues, and ourselves.”

It is philosophically appealing but pragmatically deficient when he writes: “Co-presencing processes are important in reconciling the power-love dilemma because they enable us to enact our drive for self-realisation in a context of felt unity, and to enact our drive to unite in a context of pragmatic self-realisation.” To be fair, Kahane argues that any one leader, organization, or sector cannot alone solve the social challenges we face. Our toughest challenges require collaboration. This book is a good companion for those who would like to reflect upon how to tap into both power and love within their leadership.

To order the book visit: www.bkconnection.com/ProdDetails.asp?ID=9781605093048

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