Can We Have Two Golds?

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Home > Articles > Can We Have Two Golds?

 Can We Have Two Golds?

Susan Goldsworthy OLY | Today's Manager
December 17, 2021
Power with versus power over for an inclusive, sustainable society.

 At the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the men’s high jump proved to be an exhausting contest. After two and three quarter hours, there was still no winner. Olympic high jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy had matched each other jump for jump throughout the competition. Approached by an official who shared that the next step was a jump-off to decide who would be Olympic champion, Barshim, the reigning world champion in the event, asked: “Can we have two golds?” "It's possible, yes," the official replied and immediately, the two began celebrating together. 

Barshim had won a bronze medal at London 2012 and silver at Rio 2016 and so had certainly set his sights on Olympic gold. Good friends off the track, both athletes have battled injuries over the years with Barshim dealing with serious back issues and Tamberi missing the 2016 Rio Olympics due to a broken ankle. 

With this iconic act of sportsmanship, Barshim said the decision sent a message beyond sport; a message of peace and solidarity. At the pinnacle of Olympic success, it is possible to collaborate, inspire the world, and make sporting history. 

This lesson reminds us that when we think outside of the box and keep our focus on the bigger picture we can change ‘the rules of the game’ in ways that benefit everyone.

Following months in lockdown situations, many executives are dealing with an increasing sense of exhaustion. In surveys with more than 1,250 executives, between 40 per cent and 70 per cent of people express feeling in survival or burnout modes. 1

More and more organisations are focussing on resilience and well-being programmes as the changes in the way that we live and work continue to bring pressure. Combining office work with remote working means a new way of operating. This requires a shift in what has been the past norm and having open dialogues about the implications for both the business and the people. In having these debates, it will be important to move from power as a noun to power as a verb; where power “is not a property or possession. It arises from what we do rather than what we have. The shift in perception from seeing power as a noun to seeing it as a verb has surprising potency,”. 2 

The distinction between a power-over style and a power-with style provides a guide to viewing leadership through a different lens, embracing marginalised groups.

The power-over style has been reflected in an imperialist, patriarchal past and has informed our organisational present. Power-over reflects the ego over eco approach that sees man as above others and perpetuates the use and abuse of finite resources on earth for commercial profit. It belongs to the realms of the story of ‘business as usual’ where economic growth is vital for prosperity and well-being, where humans see themselves as above all other living things that exist primarily as resources, where rampant consumerism is healthy, where massive inequalities between the haves and have nots is ‘unfortunate,’ and where the main goal is external success measured by wealth and achieved through competitive means.

In a world experiencing ‘the great unravelling’ where we see economic decline, a depletion of natural resources, hardships caused by climate change, the mass extinction of species, and an increase in social and political unrest global pandemics, we must move more quickly to the power-with style. 

Leaders have a responsibility to shift from the idea of power as competition to power as collaboration and co-creation. The myth of the male superhero who will save us is just that; a myth. No one individual, group, organisation, technology, or government can course correct by itself.

In 2015, the United Nations launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) to be achieved by 2030. Number 17 is Partnership for our Goals, reflecting this need to work together across pre-determined boundaries or artificial silos. The shift from a society dominated by a culture of having to one of being involves both individual and collective change. 

Taking a universal perspective, now is the time for leaders to find ways to collaborate rather than compete. Technological advances will no doubt play a role in finding solutions to the challenges that lie ahead. However, without a shift in consciousness, we will be at risk of perpetuating unsustainable conditions. At stake is the well-being of both the human and other-than-human species on this planet. If we can switch to a different level of consciousness, we have the potential to share two golds rather than accelerating our way to extinction. 


1 Research by Prof S Goldsworthy, IMD Business School.

2 Macy & Johnstone (2021): Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy, p 117.

Affiliate Professor of Leadership & Organisational Change at IMD and a former Olympic finalist, Susan is passionate about working with people to turn knowledge into behaviour.

She is co-author of three award-winning leadership books, Care to Dare, Choosing Change, and the recently released Where the Wild Things Were, for people of all ages to raise awareness of biodiversity loss and the need to protect what we still can in our magical, more-than-human world.

Copyright © 2021 Singapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 4, 2021

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