Last week in The Voice Magazine, I finished summarizing my experience navigating various structures around policing and the different forms of resistance I came across after submitting a criminal complaint. It was quite difficult to always be on top of things, especially since I was learning on-the-go, but there is no easy time when it comes to doing hard things. However, I believe that by sharing the insights I gained from my experience, those key takeaways can be leveraged by others who also choose to chase after a better tomorrow.
To conclude this four-part series, I will go over the idea behind power and influence, from the perspective of Harvard Business Professor Julie Battilana, as well as my approach for navigating bureaucratic systems.
The story behind power and influence
This past summer I had the opportunity to participate in a professional development program created by Harvard Business School professor, Julie Battilana, centered around social innovation and change initiatives, with a focus on power and influence. My participation in the program had to do with a healthtech tool I helped co-create that focused on addressing systemic inequities in Canada’s health care system and addressing the issue of children inheriting the outcome of not having a designated family doctor. To my surprise, the program takeaways stretched beyond my immediate reason for participating and they helped me expand the way I think about chasing results, and there are four specific takeaways I want to share with readers.
First, we need to dispel three misconceptions about power. Power is not inherently dirty, it is not something you always possess, and it is not only for those at the “top”. Additionally, it is important to understand the three sources of power: positional power in the form of a role, personal power in the form of an individual, and relational power in the form of relationships. The case study we examined to get a better grasp of these aspects was former US President, Lyndon Baine Johnson. I definitely recommend reading up on the original LBJ and the man that gave way to the “Presidential Rolex” moniker, but the most interesting thing about him had to be the infamous “Johnson Treatment”. However, be wary of applying the “Johnson Treatment” in 2023, unless you have that type of charm that only people who are from a place called Hope tend to have.
Second, one of the most important frameworks that we were introduced to was the idea of “power mapping”. Power mapping is a way to better understand power relationships and power dynamics. The cool thing about “power mapping” is that you can apply this strategy for everything, ranging from acquainting yourself with a new workplace to determining the best course of action for societal improvements. Simply put, you are figuring out who you can turn to and for what.
Third, it is important to understand people and the drivers behind their actions. These can be motivated by material resources, status, autonomy, affiliation, achievement, or morality, or any combination. Equally important was the concept of trust and just how big of a role trust played in getting things done. Trust is the currency that you deal in when it comes to working with other people. If you are ever seen as untrustworthy, nobody will want to work with you.
Lastly, it was important to understand the nature of power hierarchies and the relationships between power-advantaged groups and power-disadvantaged groups. Power hierarchies often alter the psychologies of both groups, which results in the upholding of the status quo instead of working toward the betterment of society. There was a strong emphasis placed on identifying ‘legitimizing’ myths and deconstructing them to get a clear picture of a situation. The term “legitimizing myths” referred to the importance of not taking longstanding assumptions at face value, which is often associated with unconscious biases.
One part of the program required us to discuss the best course of action for change initiatives and our entire cohort seemed to think raising awareness and bringing attention to issues was the best approach, except for me. When I shared my thoughts on change initiatives, I focused on three key concepts: the need to understand a challenge at its core, the need to understand the structures around the challenge, and the need to understand the limitations of current legislation related to that challenge. And it was only through a complete understanding of the conditions around a challenge that we could begin to build a change model that led towards lasting change.
To my surprise, my course inbox was inundated with notifications, all of them positive. One of the more memorable messages I received came from a participant who was living stateside and who thanked me for the way in which I broke down the importance of understanding the conditions around a challenge, and that this person was going to be sharing those ideas with others whenever they had the opportunity to do so. It felt cool knowing that I helped expand another person’s thinking when it came to addressing societal challenges, and I bookmarked the topic for a future article in The Voice Magazine – now here.
Standing up for other people matters
Standing up for other people, often against the status quo of power and influence, matters because it is one of the only ways to break the vicious cycles that get imposed on other people. Although some people might find it unimaginable that they would let another person walk all over them, it is important to understand some of the reasons why others struggle to stand up for themselves. Reasons can include feelings of shame and embarrassment, fears of retaliation, worries of not being believed or being labeled a “snitch”, thoughts that it might not help or that it might make the situation worse, or a vulnerable sense of self. Whatever a person’s reason may be, nobody deserves to be victimized because they are vulnerable or incapable of standing up for themselves.
When it comes to standing up for other people, that act can range from physical interventions to intellectual outmaneuvering. The course demonstrated that immediate “standing up” tends to require more of a physical intervention, whereas long-term “standing up” requires intellectual outmanoeuvring because it attempts to address the more complicated parts of the challenge, but intellectual outmanoeuvering demands knowledge and experience. Additionally, standing up for other people can have quite the impact on their lives, but what happens when we fail to stand up for other people? Well, there are real-world implications to doing nothing. The most obvious is that the harming of communities often leads to outcomes like radicalization and violent exchanges. Whether it be racial extremism, religious extremism or any other form of extremism, people can only become radicalized under the right conditions. Those conditions revolve around uncertainty and chaos, and those are the conditions that many people who are unable to stand up for themselves find themselves in.
In Canada, policing is largely a provincial matter, but all of the structures around policing that are created to ensure accountability are provincial organizations including the Board, the Law Society of Ontario, the Ontario Civilian Policing Commission, and the Office of the Independent Police Review Directorate. When these organizations responded by saying my criminal complaint was outside of their jurisdiction or mandate, it seemed as if they were just copping out, and that is how a provincial matter became a federal matter and a matter of national security.
Most Canadians are unlikely to be aware about just how big of a problem organized crime is across Canada. The problem was so bad in the province of British Columbia (B.C.) that their Attorney General sent a letter to the federal public safety minister in 2019 that called for Us-style racketeering laws that were credited for dismantling organized crime groups in New York. Although the issue of organized crime has been receiving more attention over the past few years, B.C.’s Gaming and Policy Enforcement Branch was raising the issue of organized crime years earlier, it resulted in a senior director being fired without cause and for doing his job. However, an independent gaming report put together for the Attorney General of B.C. in 2018 found that the fired director was correct in his positions and that the silence shown from the politicians and bureaucrats who ran the B.C Lottery Corporation and the ministry had real-life consequences.
Although B.C. is full of wild stories, like when the RCMP anti-illegal gaming unit (IIGET) was defunded and disbanded after a report had argued that IIGET should be able to target legal casinos instead of just illegal ones after “a businessman connected to Asian organized crime” was approved by a B.C. government employee to buy a part of a B.C. Lottery Corporation casino. No province is immune to organized crime seeping into its private sectors and public sectors. In Ontario, there was a member of parliament who was investigated by the RCMP for significant gambling, for amounts much higher than he was earning, and he eventually resigned, but identifying and going after leads has been a challenge for policing agencies across Canada. The natural question this leads to is why are policing agencies being prevented from pursuing leads related to organized crime and matters that seem to implicate individuals in positions of consequence, and at the expense of underprivileged groups?
Today’s challenge with some institutions and regulatory bodies is that they have fallen victim to individuals who always intended to leverage them for their own self-interest, and it has resulted in many institutions and regulatory bodies being viewed as less trustworthy. A lot of the challenges stem from these structures having aspects to them that are solely rooted in ‘assumptions’, and a refusal to revaluate these ‘assumptions’.
For individuals who are selected to serve as the face of an institution or regulatory body and who are entrusted with those powers, they will often fight tooth and nail to avoid having certain ‘assumptions’ examined more carefully. These “gatekeepers” do this because any examination of their ‘assumptions’ could expose them for what they are, preferential policies, causing the assumption to implode, and subsequently those with “skin in the game” to potentially fall from a very high standing to a very low standing. Once you start digging around and questioning the “gatekeepers” and what they represent, they start playing politics, and that is what makes navigating bureaucracies so difficult.
My approach to navigating bureaucracies is always rooted in respect, I never allow anything to become personal, and I always stick to the facts. I do this because I expect to come across individuals who will be passive aggressive, who will gaslight, and much more. These types of actions are not incidental, and they are often done in an attempt to discredit a person. Although it may feel good to respond in a troll-like manner or to be disrespectful, you do not want to match their energy since the end goal is what really matters.
To succeed requires you to be heard, but there are people out there who will try to silence your voice by getting you to act out of character. Once you act out of character it is over; people are less likely to hear your message, and will focus on your actions instead. All of this brings us to the reason why most people are infatuated with individuals that have the ability to keep their cool and stay composed, because it is hard, but it is also a skill that everyone can master, over time and with discipline.
This series on “defunding the police” was inspired after seeing an Ottawa defence lawyer’s tweet criticizing the eligibility requirement that prohibited defence lawyers from sitting on a police services boards. Had it not been for my interaction with the Ottawa Police Services Board (the Board), I would not have been able to realize the significance of that tweet, and I do believe that if a defence lawyer had been sitting on the Board instead of appointees who had no background in policing, that my complaint would have been handled much differently.
What my experience shows is that, sometimes, doing things right guarantees nothing, and the only way to address systemic barriers is through legislative changes. Changing the funding strategy of the police is unlikely to yield significant benefits in stopping poor police behaviour so long as the systems that conduct oversight are not themselves held to account.
I hope this gives a better understanding as to what it really takes to address the very grievances that gave way to the “defund the police” slogan. Although there may be countless ways to approach societal challenges that are holding us back from the society that everyone deserves, if the end goal is lasting change, then we really need to dig deep. Going after systemic barriers is never easy and resistance is to be expected at every turn, but if you persist, and do it the right way, you will get results.