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Soft Power

The concept of Soft Power, as opposed to Hard power

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Latest Activity: Oct 5, 2010

What is soft power? Isn't it weak?

Soft power is getting results without the use of force. It’s the opposite of hard power, which is getting results using force. Words that are associated with soft power are dynamic, flexible, connected, transformative – all the words that say change is possible without destruction.

Some, like Professor Joseph Nye who first made the distinction, call it the Power of Attraction –the power that draws people to work with you and support you in your endeavours. How much you have depends on how much others appreciate the way you are in the world, what you stand for. Also how open you are to engagement.

If you want to think of a soft powered individual, think Barack Obama. Everyone – even Republicans - want to be around him, work with him, be his friend. With that kind of power, he can move quickly and effectively.

In the world of international relations, soft power arises out of listening and mediating, being democratic, acting like a global citizen and having attractive goods and services on offer. Soft power is the opposite of using arms, money or the threat of exclusion to set the terms of your engagement. If hard power is the one-way deal, then soft power is reciprocity - mutual agreement, mutual benefit, mutual appreciation.

Both soft power and hard power have extremes that are unmanageable. Too hard leads to a disconnection between our goals and our capacity to achieve those goals - such as when we are too focussed on growth and progress without paying attention to the development that has to occur first to make them sustainable. Growth is forced at the expense of well being.

Too soft leads to an over emphasis on comfort - the pursuit of ideal circumstances and relationships before taking action. Many of the great projects that I have witnessed over the years have not manifested real change for others but have lingered in the realm of process. The United Nations is often characterised as a soft power institution.

But while we are not aware of the distinction between hard and soft power, we cannot create a healthy balance between them. Hard looks at soft as weak, soft looks at hard as brutal. Is there a correlation there between men and women and what they bring to both private and public spaces? Strictly speaking, no. Broadly speaking, yes.

What balanced leadership can bring, is precisely that - balance. In the world of power, that is known as Smart Power.

For more articles by Indra on Soft Power and Smart Power see: and

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