Power, politics and the individual

Published: 19 Jun 2019 Average Rating: 4.5 / 5 Print

Author: Tim Cummins

When we use or compete for power, how often do we reflect on the impact this has on individuals?

I have been corresponding recently with a contract manager in Iran – a deeply troubled country, struggling to recover from a turbulent past. As with so many parts of the Middle East, it suffered for many years from the the power politics of competing empires and their economic interests. Today, it suffers from internal tensions that spill over into regional and international confrontation.

My correspondent is dedicated to contract management. He has worked hard and industriously to raise his knowledge and competence. He would like nothng more than to continue that development and to contribute his expertise in a more settled environmant, where his skills can be used to much greater effect, generating social and economic value.

Potential employers in Europe and other parts of the Middle East recognize his capabilities. In recent months, he has had three job offers. On two occasions, work visas have been denied. In the third, the offer was withdrawn out of fear of sanctions. In every case, the issue is driven by the stand-off between the governments of Iran and the United States.

Power battles are a reality and we certainly cannot change them any time soon. But stories like this cause me to reflect on the fact that behind every power battle there are people – individuals whose lives are impacted, often quite fundamentally. All of us in contract and commercial management are potentially part of that power-based thinking – the terms and conditions we seek to impose (are they fair?), the negotiation strategies we adopt (are they win-win?), the way we handle supplier or customer relationships (are they equitable?).

To a degree, attempts to establish power are an inevitable consequence of competition and, within limits, can be productive and beneficial. But when we simply aim for power for its own sake, or use it without thought or to tip the balance unreasonably in our favor, it is not only destructive, but also creates tensions that may spill over into confrontation.

It is easy to shrug our shoulders and see this as someone else's problem, or take the view that this is just the way of the world. But is it really the way we want the world to be? And even if our own individual efforts can only be small, cumultatively they would be large. Fairness and balance in contracting practices would deliver a tremendous social and economic benefit – and perhaps even start to influence areas of political thinking. In the end, I just hope that my Iranian correspondent – and many more like him – can realize his ambitions and be allowed the chance to contribute his talents to the world.