Business advice: Power

stick photo power

By Bill Caswell
Special to Ontario Construction News

My wife, as a teenager, came to the conclusion that men were the world’s problem, a thought she still harbours today: Men beat wives; men rape women; men beat other men; every religion has its Cain and Abel story; men conduct most crimes; men are the main initiators of corruption; men start and fight in wars. And she is undeniably right; mostly men are authors of these tragedies. Yet, she fails to notice the root cause for these situations.

Males of other species

The male lion dominates the lioness and the cubs. He will eat cubs from another pride if he has the opportunity. He gets to feast on the newly fallen prey first, even though the lioness was the hunter. Chimpanzees seem to follow humans in this male domination scheme – although, of course, it is we humans who follow the chimps. The guilty arrow keeps pointing at males. Yet this is still NOT looking at the root cause.

Power struggles

If the human population were female only (with the hermaphroditic ability to reproduce), we would still see females choosing to dominate other women. Female prisons demonstrate this clearly. Lowly hens and cows (female, of course) form lines of power in everyday events. In the hyena community the female is the boss and pity the poor male that gets in her way1. The shark in the ocean makes a dominant claim in this major portion of planet Earth. Humans dominate their pigs and sheep on the farm, deciding when to eat them.

Power is not limited to animals. Plants grow nicer flowers than their neighbouring shoots to attract more bees and other insects. Trees in the forest dominate by growing taller than other trees to gain more sunlight.

It’s about survival

While the Universe began 13.6 billion years, ago, it was not until less than 4 billion years ago that the entity called Earth arrived and located itself at just the right distance from the Sun to form life. But it wasn’t easy: A bunch of chemicals, lying side by side, getting tossed around in a primordial soup, creating different reactions, took more than 100 million years to lay out a mixture of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (sugar), as well as mixing with phosphate, and chemical bonds called bases to ultimately form a molecule that had the ability to reproduce itself – RNA.

Fed from sunlight, not too hot and not too cold, this concoction produced the single-celled entity we call the bacterium, which not only reproduced proficiently, but made alliances to create multi-celled creatures, of which we humans are one (ten trillion cells). It should not be surprising that the creatures’ dominant drivers were procreation (making more) and survival (existing so that more creatures could be made).

To survive, the entity had to fight off the competition – brothers and sisters if it was a question of survival. Thus was instituted the Cain and Abel story referred to above. To summarize, all creatures developed a need for “me first” and fending off all threats, even family. And so it is natural for the latest model in the evolutionary chain, humans, to be competitive, even among themselves – and even more so against entities different than them. Sharks don’t eat sharks, but sharks will fight sharks for the privilege of being the boss (or reproducing more sharks).

To repeat: all creatures developed a need for “me first” and fending off threats. I reminded my wife that this applies to both men and women. Just as the big shark is a threat to smaller sharks, the male human can be a threat to other humans. The baby baboon spends more time keeping out of the way of the big baboon rather than the savannah lion.

Creatures having developed a logical brain as recently as 50 million years ago, and humans coming on the scene only one million years ago, now recognize that beating each other up constantly is not useful, whereas co-operation can lead to better things. So, we developed a bunch of rules to make society work more readily. However, in a moment of stress, the primordial part of our brains (700 million years old) overpowers the logical part (a mere 50 million years ago) when we become excited, and Cain slays Abel. When we are cool, calm, and collected, it is easy to see the nonsense of male domination. But we are not always cool, calm, and collected.

Power in business

Success in business comes through the hierarchical system, with one person dominating another. And it works very well. As CCCC shows, it works even better if the subordinate feels he or she is in control of his or her own situation – i.e., the dominance is not waved around flagrantly.


The root cause of male domination is that creatures of the same species fight one another to make a winning situation for themselves and fight even more so if they view the opponent as of a different species. The more society makes one’s tendency to dominate less attractive (such as attempts to tame racial prejudice or fighting in the schoolyard), the greater the sense of co-operation, and the more societal achievements will be experienced. Our society is making progress for sure, but the battle between the 700-million-year-old self-protector and the 50-million-year-old thinker will continue to wage in humans for many years, even centuries, to come.

1 Lucy Cooke, Bitch, Basic Books/Hatchet Book Group, New York, NY, 2022

Bill Caswell leads the Caswell Corporate Coaching Company (CCCC) in Ottawa, or email


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