The Drug of Power

Our political leaders are repeating the same news. The mediated dramatism keeping us hostage daily to tighten their negotiations makes the last weeks since the elections seem years. But what happens to these figures when they come into contact with power?

This week Antonio Garrigues released his new poetry book, “Living Loves, Dead Loves.” It was an intimate and meaningful event in which several of his poems were recited. Carlos Rodríguez Brown read the last one, addressed to our political leaders, and as he read it, without realizing it, two tears slid down my cheeks. We all were shocked.

Juan Fernández-Aceytuno, director of the Appraisal Society, asked Mario Alonso Puig and me, “But what happens to these people?” And as if it was a cocktail party in which they were going to interrupt us at any time, the three of us agreed to sum it up: “they lose their way when they come to power.”

The question is why. None of us think that we will lose our way if we are suddenly given the maximum position of responsibility in our organizations, and yet it can happen to anyone. We only realize it “a posteriori,” when we look back and reflect on our own excesses.

I think the easiest way to understand the effect of power is to imagine it as an ocean current of oceanic proportions over which we must flow or surf in some direction. Those who have not had power cannot understand what it feels like to have it. It is like a boy thinking from the sand on the beach about what world surfing champions, who risk their lives at every moment on waves tens meters high, are doing badly. The rush of adrenaline and the physical effort they use are literally life or death.

Directing a country or rubbing shoulders with the global elite of the G20 generates the same effect. On one hand, so much force under our feet dislodges us physically and mentally. Our emotional reactions are so intense that they overflow, and our minds escape to some pleasant place of fantasy. The pressure of the phone, the enormous opportunities that open before us and the terrible blackmails that come to look for us like hungry sharks, burn our skin and take away so much sleep, that our minds escape to a state of self-inflated drunkenness. Same as a line of cocaine (I imagine).

That is why power is a drug, because as it saturates us or drowns us quickly, our minds create a scenario in which we are all-powerful and invincible. It makes us supermen and superwomen who can see from the heavens what is happening down there among mortals. And this, you will find very curious, is basically what victims of violent trauma do when their minds do not know how to face the sensory reality of what is happening to them. They separate from their body and watch the scene from the ceiling.

Power, therefore, pushes us to our maximum limit every moment of every day. It intoxicates us with self-elevating pleasure and enslaves us with its pressure and unpredictable movements, thus discovering, in light of everything, any defect in the form or substance of our personalities.

Learn to surf

So, for example, we have seen how Nicolás Sarkozy strives to appear taller than his super model wife in this week’s Paris Match photos. How can a man with the success and charisma he has still feel self-conscious about his height? Marrying a queen of beauty and Parisian sophistication has raised his status socially, but in doing so he subjected himself to the scrutiny of his own self-conscious gaze. Nobody cares about Sarkozy’s height more than Sarkozy.

The more power, the stronger the wave we must surf. And it is easier to dislodge ourselves, lose out footing, or even fall suddenly from our brand-new Buzz Lightyear presidents table: “To infinity and beyond!” aviator glasses, Falcon pose and everything.

The challenge is, therefore, in learning to surf the wave of power without fading out, without saturating ourselves, and without letting ourselves be drowned by the intensity of the emotions from a position of maximum influence. The years of experience with all their troubles, deceptions and failures help a lot. If you do crazy things for love, you also end up doing them to stay in power.

Like a crush that is too intense, there is no bigger disappointment than to suddenly recover sobriety and realize all the stupid and/or terrible things that you have done in order to win the duel of guns at any cost. And if you suffer several disappointments, each time you lose less in your fantasies, learning over the years to accept the reality.

Giving advice to the oceanic surfers of the G20, here from the disembodied beach of executive coaching in a country very resistant to self-questioning, I can only say one thing: everything that you invest in personal growth will prepare you to surf big and complex waves. Coaching-the thing that questions us and makes us see new things; not that of praise and promise of solving the problem – practicing meditation and mindfulness to better manage our own reactions and emotions, returning regularly to spaces of reflection, are the tools that work.

Surfing is learned by surfing. If you analyze how you failed every time you get off the board, you will improve your way of catching the waves. Without miracles or magic, but with effort and time. The one who always knows how to look in the mirror and find points to improve on ends up flowing with authentic tsunamis of power without clinging or hanging onto them. And these influential surfing champions are those leaders who impact with their vision and serve their hearts.


 

Pino Bethencourt 
Coach and founder of Club Comprometidos