A noteworthy scene in the movie, Lincoln, comes in a meeting the President had with his advisors in the final push for the votes needed to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that would outlaw slavery. Recognizing the significance of the moment, Lincoln, as portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis, shouted, “I am the President of the United States, clothed in immense power!” Yes, in case you are wondering, that is a real Lincoln quote.
What is ironic about the statement is the fact Lincoln actually does not have the power to do what he wants and he knows it. This power gap has forced him to engage in an unseemly game of political horse trading to procure the votes needed to accomplish his goal. Was the office of president powerful? Yes, and no.
The gap between a leader’s official power and actual power is not new and is getting larger. This is true for heads of companies, and non-profit organizations, as well as heads of state. We could call it power inflation. The same office today has less power than yesterday. Moises Naim says it like this, “Power no longer buys as much as it did in the past. In the twenty-first century, power is easier to get, harder to use—and easier to lose.”
In this month’s vlog, Power Inflation: Why the Same Position brings Less Influence, Steve Moore reminds us that while power is not going away, it is decaying. And the power elite in every sphere must face up to increasingly greater limits on their power.
There are still leaders “clothed in immense power,” but almost all of them have less actual power than their predecessors, who had fewer challenges, fewer competitors, and fewer constraints. Moises Naim believes, “Understanding how power is losing its value—and facing up to the hard challenges this poses—is the key to making sense of one of the most important trends reshaping the world in the twenty-first century.”