How have power and control been playing out in our lives, these days?  What is the difference between the two?  

Sometimes used interchangeably, “power” and “control” are results that stem from different sources of input and it is worth recognizing the difference between the two. But that is not the whole picture.

To help me with the question of power versus control, I turn to the ever-handy four-square framework. And where I landed is that the same factors that can lead to a sense of power or control also lead to systemic dysfunction and burnout.

A framework for power and control

For our purposes here, the “short game” refers to when we play for immediate wins and results, and the “long game” refers to playing for long-term wins.  

“Others Serving Us” refers to when we perceive others around us are here to serve us, and our purposes.  

“Us Serving Others” refers to when we perceive that we are here to serve others, “the greater good”.

Breaking it down

Here’s how each box in the four square plays out in real life.

Systemic Dysfunction (Others Serving Us + Playing the Long Game): In this mode, we choose to see others as vehicles to serve our own desires.  And we are strategic about ways to embed that over time so that it stays that way.  The result is systemic dysfunction, like policies, laws, and practices that treat others as unequal, or less than.  

Control (Others Serving Us + Playing the Short Game): Here we are focused on manipulating others to serve a short-term need.  This is a behavior we may recognize more regularly.  (Think about a time at work when you wanted to persuade someone that a project is a good idea.)   This space is a magnet for stress because we often perceive more to be in our control than actually is, which creates friction.

Burnout (Serving Others + Short-Game): Burnout results when we serve others in a short-term focused way that can become transactional in nature.  We give, give, give, and get what?  We lose track of why serving others is the right thing to do.  We get tired.  

Power (Serving Others + Long-Game): Power comes from the ultimate big picture perspective.  We pour our energy into serving a greater good, and we take the long view about it.  Many famous, influential activists have said something to the effect of “this is the fight of generations and I am just here to play my own part in it.”  They recognize the magnitude of what they are dealing with.  They pace themselves.  They become strategic.  They make big moves.  They do not underestimate the impact of an accumulation of small moves.  

Control can have value when we need to set boundaries, for example. But when we use the power within us to connect with and serve others, that power grows exponentially.

Wendy Hultmark, CPC, ACC, is a coach who works with women in leadership to own their story and write the next chapter. Learn more at