Distinguishing Shadow Power Threads: A Case Study

shadow power Oct 16, 2023
A Leader Untangling Shadow Power Threads Artistically Represented as a Fisherman Untangling His Nets to Catch Fish

We've all had that "this feels SO bad" experience at work, but true healing only becomes possible when we see why. 

When we can distinguish the individual threads in complex knots of charge in ourselves, our relationships, and our orgs — we become massively more powerful and equipped to be truly alchemical leaders. 

This example I came across is a many-threaded knot, and I share it so we may all learn to further our work to steward Power that Serves the Whole — especially in cases where technology development or decision-making is outpacing the rate of ethical consideration.

This example came to my awareness through a post from Seher Shafiq at Mozilla who shared about a keynote speech given by Daniel Motaung at their MozFest House Kenya. Daniel is “known for whistleblowing Meta's unethical practice of outsourcing traumatic content moderation work to the Global South, and especially to Kenya where Daniel was working with Sama, the company Meta contracted.” (quote from Seher’s post). I’ll share a context quote from Seher below summarizing Daniel’s experience and then I’ll dive into a breakdown of some of the many Shadow Power threads at play from my read of her description.  First, in honor of the trials that Daniel went through and continues to go through, here are some ways to uplift him — you can see and amplify Daniel’s full keynote here, he is listed as open to work on LinkedIn, and he is a very powerful keynote speaker if you’re looking for one.


Photo of Daniel Motaung by Seher Shafiq


The Context

“Daniel applied for a job in content moderation, and based on the job ad he thought he’d be working with newspapers. After he was hired he learned he was working online, and for a social media company. Turns out he had signed up to screen graphic and traumatic images and videos for Meta via their contracting company, Sama. He was not given prior information about what this job would be, and did not have adequate support after regularly watching gruesome content - some of the darkest things humans are capable of. He developed PTSD as a result and ended up suing Meta for work-related damages…

Daniel was paid about $2.20/hr, and said even after getting PTSD for life, looking back, he'd still say yes to the job because living in poverty was so scary -- ‘I would have chosen the money...poverty would have [still] driven me into the work.’ This is a sad reality for many workers who have almost no choice but to take any job available, and end up being exploited for their labour.” (quote from Seher’s post)


Some of the Shadow Power Threads

I’m not going to do a full analysis against the full 36 types of power because….

Spoiler // There are SO MANY Shadow Power types apparent just from this context quote. Here are some.

🧠 Mental Shadow Power // Work known to cause trauma and PTSD assigned without informed consent or adequate remediation care

πŸ‘‘ Positional Shadow Power // Many people in seats of positional power didn’t advocate for the voices of those not in the room who’d be subjected to this plan

βœ”οΈ Decision Making Shadow Power // Whoever gave final decisions for this plan approved a path with the greatest liability to people doing the work and as little liability to the company as possible

πŸ™‹πŸΌ‍♂️ Privilege Shadow Power // Outsourcing of traumatic work from Global N to Global S is certainly, as Daniel says, “re-colonization”

πŸ’° Resource Shadow Power // Wage profiteering on poverty-squeezed community

πŸ—£οΈ Communication Shadow Power // Misleading representation of the work in job posting

πŸ€– Technology Shadow Power // Knowingly making technology/products for consumers or requiring employees to interact with technology/products that makes people mentally, physically, or emotionally ill

🀍 Emotional Shadow Power // Numbness of decision makers to impacts on employees from this plan

🀝 Trust Shadow Power // False pretenses, false agreements, and inadequate support after work injury

πŸ«‚ Caretaking Shadow Power // Inadequate support for work-induced trauma

βš–οΈ Ethics & Stewardship Shadow Power // Lack of full disclosure in agreements of work & so much more in this whole example…

βš—οΈ Alchemy Shadow Power // Rather than Meta finding a path to healing and an alternative to this work stream and its consequences, this became a lawsuit and Daniel had to become a whistleblower

Woof — I could go on.

Meanwhile, Daniel's stand and story are an amazing demonstration of embodying Power that Serves the Whole with his Inner Power, Mental Power, Story Power, Communication Power, Organizing Power, Ethics & Stewardship Power, and Alchemy Power — just to name a few.


This case study is one example of how we can use the Wayfinding Power Landscape to illuminate and distinguish threads of Shadow Power.

And it’s not just an incredibly powerful decoder ring for Shadow Power, it’s also a design tool to weave in more Power that Serves the Whole into all our ways of being and working.


Simple Actions & Reflections

The work of power diagnosis begins within ourselves and recognizing our own patterns with each of the 36 types of power as Power that Serves the Whole and Shadow Power.

  1. As you reflect on the above examples of Shadow Power expression, have you observed yourself embodying any of these or not speaking out when you've witnessed others embody them? *Resist the urge to collapse into avoidance, shame, or disgust and see if you can stay with the noticing.
  2. If you want to learn more about the Wayfinding Power Landscape and the types of power I referenced, read this free ebook.
  3. If you're ready for your own initiation into a more responsible, beneficial embodiment of power, take the Power Assessment for Leaders today. 


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