The definition of power here is simply the ability to generate effects in the world. This definition covers both our human relationships as well as our relationships to nature – to all the diverse realities, situations, objects, life forms, and systems we deal with.

This model of power is an attempt to include and organize higher-order power categories, not necessarily specific forms of power.  The model is and always will be incomplete of course.  It is intended to stimulate challenges and explorations that could make it increasingly comprehensive and useful.

A theory of co-intelligent power – or power appropriate for a wise democracy – would find a place for all the modes of power described here.  All of them have potential bright sides and dark sides.  Even the most toxic forms of power have evolutionary functions, if only to evoke healing or transformational energies in response.

We who seek to understand and exercise co-intelligent power – or power for a wise democracy – face two related challenges.  We must constantly seek to (1) understand the nature of power that arises from and serves the whole (our fundamental inquiry about power) and (2) we must realize that to the extent a form or exercise of power does not embrace – or actively counters – certain entities, energies, or aspects involved in a situation – i.e., to the extent it does not take into account “the whole” – it will likely generate unwanted consequences or energetic residues that will likely “demand” to be addressed – if not here and now, then in some other time or place.

For this reason, power-over can easily be considered more toxic than other forms of power.  But both power-over and power-with offer different forms of efficiency.  The efficiency of power-over tends to be more immediate, while the efficiency of power-with tends to be more long-term.

The co-intelligent approach seeks to transcend this trade-off.  It seeks to minimize power-over while maximizing – and mastering the practice of – collective power, power-from-within, and power-from-without in ways that have both short-term and long-term efficiency.  This efficiency is exemplified perhaps by Aikido masters who seek to disable their opponents’ harmful energy by moving with that energy, leaving little if any residue of stuck or conflicted energy behind.

However, life’s demands often seem to necessitate the exercise of power-over – especially in urgent situations – so students of co-intelligent power exercise power-over as elegantly as they can and learn from the resulting experience.  A key factor in making power-over less toxic is the feedback loop generated by conscious active consent – people’s mindful delegation of power-over to a chosen (and usually specially qualified) person or group for a specified purpose and time, authority that – if abused – can be withdrawn by those over whom it is exercised.  The consent factor introduces an element of power-with which reduces the likelihood of resistance and repression.

Now, to consider our overview of this ecosystem of power modes….

Image Credit: Maxikt – Pixabay


POWER-OVER (GENERAL) – the ability to cause specific linear effects. (Note: These factors are often present in all four of the sub-forms of power-over below, as well as sometimes showing up – for better and/or worse – in the other three major power “families” described below.)

  • Control
  • Linear influence
  • Management
  • Direction
  • Authority
  • Accountability
  • Decision-making (making the decisions or shaping the decision-making process)
  • Choice definition (defining the choices available for selection)
  • Design
  • Law
  • Force / Compulsion
  • Framing a dominant or targeted narrative or discourse
  • Established patterns / Tradition / Habit / Infrastructure
  • Circumstances

POWER-OVER (CONSENSUAL) – use or control of (someone or something) to serve a mutually held purpose

  • Delegation / Mandate / Representative government / Subsidiarity (exercise of a governance function at the lowest level it can be effectively managed, with higher levels empowered by and answerable to lower levels)
  • Servant leadership (see also Power-from-without, below)
  • Accountability to those over whom the delegated power is exercised
  • Contract / Agreement / Constitution
  • Ad hoc authorization

POWER-OVER (NONCONSENSUAL) – use or control of (someone or something) as a means to an end that is not shared

  • Manipulation
  • Exploitation
  • Cooptation
  • Parasitism
  • Colonization
  • Deception / Fraud
  • Seizure / Theft

POWER-AGAINST – energy used to suppress, defeat, or destroy (someone or something viewed as undesirable, usually over resistance, which is the other side of the power-against coin)

  • Competition / Battle / War / Struggle
  • Conquest / Defeat / Domination
  • Oppression / Suppression
  • Ridicule / Defamation
  • Demoralization
  • Restraint / Limitation
  • Violence / Abuse / Harm
  • Destruction
  • Eradication / Killing / Genocide
  • Subversion / Disruption / Destabilization
  • Exclusion / Prohibition / Rejection / Banishment
  • Dispersal
  • Prevention
    ———— [reaction strategies that themselves involve power-against]
  • Protest / Opposition
  • Non-cooperation / Resistance / Obstruction
  • Sabotage
  • Disclosure / Exposure
  • Delegitimization
  • Declared/assumed sovereignty or peerness
    (and any other power-against modes listed previously)

SUASIVE FORCE – nonviolent power-over that pressures a willing (if often reluctant) realignment of someone’s thinking, feeling, behavior, responses, etc. (Can be viewed as a compelling “calling forth” of realigned power-from-within and power-with in the Other.)

  • Convincing argument / Evidence / Reasoning
  • The power of Love (“Love the person, not the behavior”) / Appreciation / Empathy / Listening
  • Ahimsa (Gandhian “Truth Force”) / Moral pressure/suasion
  • Moral challenge
  • Witnessing Presence
  • Creative exuberance / Attractive alternatives / Compelling vision
  • Transformational vulnerability (strategically evoked responsiveness to one’s own suffering or struggle)
  • Addressing deep needs, values, interests, concerns
  • Powerful questions
  • Creative uncertainty (an often stressful invitation into doubt and generative inquiry)


POWER-FROM-AMONG – energies and resources that emerge from interrelatedness or interaction

  • Conversation
  • Relationship
  • Networking
  • Collective reflection (to enhance the awareness of individual group members)
  • Collective intelligence / Shared understanding / Co-sensing
  • Sharing (as a general principle and dynamic)
  • Diversity (of all kinds)
  • Synergy (generative relationship through which the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts)
  • Holergy (energy or resources arising from the fact that a part is greater than its role in any given whole, being itself a whole and related to other entities)
  • Reputation

POWER-WITH – energies and resources that come from collective coherence or alignment among entities

  • Cooperation / Alliance
  • Working with the existing energies / propensities / dynamics (e.g., Aikido, permaculture)
  • Harmony / Alignment / Agreement
  • Shared motivations (goals, purposes, vision, needs, interests)
  • Consent (for systems or leaders to assume power-over to further shared goals)
  • Shared culture
  • Solidarity
  • Team spirit
  • Organization
  • Collective resources



  • Presence
  • Awareness
  • Spirit / Transpersonal connectedness
  • Knowledge
  • Skill
  • Character / Integrity
  • Empathy
  • Caring / Passion
  • Exuberance / Life energy
  • Responsibility
  • Commitment / Determination
  • Fearlessness / Courage
  • Uniqueness
  • Autonomy / Sovereignty / Self-definition
  • Self-transcendence
  • Strong expression of pure emotions like anger and grief


POWER-FROM-WITHOUT – capacity imported from outside the system that enhances the general power within the system

  • Servant Leadership
  • Empowerment
  • Inspiration
  • Support
  • Facilitation
  • Guidance
  • Context (can be designed for this purpose)
  • Perspective
  • Alternatives
  • Incentives
  • Challenge

DISENGAGED AGENCY – generating impact (unacknowledged power) through one’s seeming non-involvement with the situation; being outside the system in one sense but, from a larger systemic perspective, being an essential enabler of certain eventualities.

  • Neglect
  • Obliviousness / Ignorance
  • Irresponsibility / Carelessness
  • Denial
  • Apathy
  • Blame
  • Alienation
  • Distraction
  • Power vacuum
  • “Powerlessness”
  • Spectatorism (thinking of oneself as “only a bystander”)