Greenwich power: What is it and who has it?

Greenwich-Voices-von-KeyserlingAs I watch the governance of Greenwich by its elected and volunteer leadership, I have often wondered about the qualities of power and how it is exercised.

This has been impacted by the ever-increasing speed of change, both locally and globally. Technology has evolved to where billion-dollar companies can be run by a few people out of a “home office.” Communication platforms are so pervasive and facile that anyone can be an influential “pundit,” free of giant media control.  More than ever before, a simple individual can make faster and greater impact on society.

We in Greenwich live in what is considered a “power center of the universe.” Our town is full of individuals who are considered to be the drivers of every phase of human life, local and global. Hedge funds, which did not exist a few years ago, make and control more capital than the largest, international banks, the World Bank or aid programs. And Greenwich is the hedge fund epicenter.

Many NFPs and NGOs are sponsored or run by significant leaders living in our community. Graduated students from Greenwich schools, both public and private, are creating whole new industries and ways of approaching world problems. It might be claimed that simply moving to Greenwich is a certification that one has achieved singular career success.

Living in Greenwich can be a heady experience. Often, the governance of Greenwich has the same feeling of impotence that the mayor of Washington, D.C., must experience. Everyone has power to enforce their personal agenda. Yet “everyone” in Greenwich is usually ill-informed and egocentric in their demands.

Even charity can be a vicious competition for resources. Yet the town must be “ruled” and  comprehensive planning must be followed.

How does a leader achieve the public good, when the public is reluctant to face inconvenience, let alone the sacrifice of self-interest? That is real power. And rare are the successful practitioners.

How can we identify such a person? Longevity in office? Names on an edifice? Harpoon Club roastings? Most of the powerful people are as shy of personal publicity as the wealthy are of posting on the Forbes 500. Besides, why would a “powerful” person invest precious time and energy in the petty world of town government?

My answer is to look to those who spend incessant hours digging, talking, listening, and planning on their own. Their achievements are masked by those who take the public point. Often their biggest achievements are those outcomes that were prevented. Most often they are tracked back by the ideas they planted in others, and then, the gentle gardening to fertilize, prune, weed, and feed those who achieve an outcome.

Even those leaders who are very prominent in the public eye achieve their greatest accomplishments in quiet and anonymity.

What is power? Power is a perception which, when exercised, is diminished. Corrupt power is wear-dated, because it requires constant exercise to maintain an unnatural position. Good power is that which benefits the greater good and lasts. It serves the community more than the leader.

Many “powerful” people are astounded by the real limits of their ability to decree outcomes. While power must be taken (rarely bestowed), to maintain it requires obligation. Does one own power, or does power own its holder?

Credibility, honesty, integrity, and communal focus are the qualities of power holders which seem immutable in the long run.


Christopher von Keyserling is a Republican and a longtime member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting, though the opinions expressed in this column are his own.

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