“Response to the Future of Power” by Joseph Nye

Nowadays, intense globalization and technological change seem to influence every aspect of human life, starting from day-to-day activities to international affairs. Every significant change requires appropriate and timely reaction to address the adjustment needed to continue or become successful, no matter in which area of activity. The Future of Power is a thought-provoking work written by the leading thinker on smart and soft power in international relations, Joseph Nye. In this book, he attempts to assess the current leadership style and power position of the US and shows how it may be shifted in a new world of emerging economies and non-state actors. In general, the arguments introduced by Nye in this seminal work shed light on the developing nature of power in the twenty-first century due to new economic and geopolitical realities. Despite the global IR focus of the book, it is also useful for managers as it gives insights regarding currently efficient leadership practices. This paper is aimed to present and discuss Nye’s arguments in the context of retail store management.

A retail manager is an individual who is in charge of the day-to-day supervision of the store’s stock, employees, and sales. In other words, he/she has to lead an effective retail store’s performance by wise management of its tangible and HR resources. The retail manager’s responsibilities include recruiting, supervising staff, managing budgets, overseeing inventory, pricing control, and problem-solving. All these activities require advanced management skills that allow professionals to design and oversee all business processes. Moreover, they should have high leadership skills that significantly influence retail store performance in today’s dynamic business environment (Mekraz & Gundala, 2016). These skills are necessary to face typical challenges such as delivering customer service, increasing profit margin, managing the high employee turnover rate, and inventory shrinkage. For instance, leadership behaviors make it possible to retain employees who may want to leave the job due to continuous physical stressors and demands. Hence, the main arguments of The Future of Power concerning leadership can and should be applied to the retail management context.

Before the global information age, ownership of resources, together with military strength, were the main preconditions for world dominance. However, the shift to more soft means of influence and more cunning leadership styles occurred due to the impact of new technologies. The author stresses that it is a time for the US to stop thinking about preserving dominance over others and rather focus on developing smart strategies for power with other nations (Nye 2011). Nye (2011) believes that economic, military, and soft power should be integrated into a “smart power,” which is the only one able to face current challenges. The same can be applied to current management regarding the substitution of the autocratic style of leadership by a more transformational or democratic style that enhances overall alignment to the organization’s goals.

He regards power as something not entirely based on resource ownership because even the most well-endowed countries may not always meet their goals without taking into consideration the power conversion. According to Nye (2011), both hard and soft powers can be placed on the different ends of the spectrum that very often overlap. In other words, money and force, which are tangibles, can be used in both soft and hard strategies. For instance, HR strategy can be deployed to set expectations and punishments and provide command behavior or deployed to appeal to the minds by providing any training or team-building initiatives that bring co-optive behavior.

In general, the concept of attraction, agenda framing, and persuasion are the main elements of soft power. This synthesis creates a “smart power” that uses payment, persuasion, attraction, and coercion at the same time. To my mind, the similar synergy of “powers” of the retail store’s HR strategy should be established. For instance, in my previous position, I had to deal with underperforming employees. I approached them with individual plans and promised rewards for meeting objectives, and their performance improved. Nevertheless, an element of coercion and possible penalties should also be present.

Moreover, Nye (2011) mentions that a liberal realist strategy is an answer for the US because it helps to addresses security issues and encourages multilateralism and a strong economy. The rising powers are seen to deploy smart strategies aimed at meeting their own goals. Nevertheless, he denies the idea that America has to impose its values on other countries forcefully. The author praises President Obama’s smart power usage that resulted in an improved global image of the US and helped in appealing to the hearts and minds of Iraqi civilians.

The author also provides some interesting observations that can be noted by business leaders. Nye (2011) argues that some small countries, which do not have enough physical capacity, still managed to become essential players in IR due to smart and soft power usage. He lists such states as Qatar, Singapore, Norway, and Prussia, which yielded their positions from collaboration, alliances, and networks. I believe that the same applies to business when small retail stores maintain superior networks with suppliers and manage their operations efficiently. From my experience, the Internet somewhat equalized larger and traditional companies with smaller but more flexible ones. The way how operations are performed became more important than the space capacity of the stores.

It comes from the text that soft power makes every organization more attractive and persuasive. Nye (2011) revealed that, according to scientists, “empathy and social intelligence are vastly more important to acquiring and exercising power than are force, deception, or terror” (p. 17). In order to be successful, businesses should depart from using deception and terror in their strategies and instead apply social intelligence and empathy. He also states that people tend to like those who are from their group membership and share similar attitudes. It means that the HR strategy in the retail business also should be more local using smart power instead of punishing. It is better to hire local staff and be aware of their cultural preferences in order to unify them.

Furthermore, the modern communications era created an environment in which the company’s message and storytelling play an essential role in being more attractive. For a retail manager, it is also important to frame issues in a compelling way to make some facts be heard by the staff while less important ones ignored. According to Nye (2011), public diplomacy very often treated by policymakers as a cure for damages done by other tools. However, soft power can be used initially to maintain current and future relationships in order to prevent adverse consequences. For example, I know one retail manager who managed to establish an honest and trust workplace environment, although the store’s team consisted of people representing different cultures. He did it by emphasizing the company’s goals, establishing excellent communication, and even organizing sports events. Such a team-building approach led to higher employee retention and mitigated cultural differences.

Relational power consists of three different elements: controlling agendas, commanding change, and establishing preferences. Nye (2011) presents three faces of power that require different power tools. All of them can be successfully applied only following the assessment of culture and context in which power is planned to be used. The author states that “what produces attraction for one target may produce revulsion for another” (Nye, 2011, p. 22). Leadership and management should be confident that their values align with employees’ ones, and that the planning stage was appropriately conducted. Structural power in the twenty-first century can be achieved by enhancing people-to-people links in so-called networks. A retail manager must build long-term relationships with and among staff that create an enabling environment

Moreover, the company which strives to obtain desired outcomes should have a well-designed strategy and skillful leadership. Nye (2011) argues that power behavior can be converted from resources such as policies and values by qualities that include benignity, brilliance, and charisma. In terms of a retail store, brilliance is how the retail manager does his/her work that produces respect and admiration of the staffers, while charisma is the agent’s ability to disseminate the organization’s values, ideals, and vision. In other words, a manager should be efficient and fully aware of the objectives to encourage and inspire others.

To conclude, The Future of Power by Nye mainly discusses different types of power in the information age realities. It also provides crucial ideas that can be applied in the business, including retail store management. Throughout the book, Nye (2011) points at the importance of contextual, cultural awareness, and strategy. The context determines which “face of power” or “co-optive behavior” will be used in the future. In terms of retail store management, such soft powers as persuasion, agenda-setting, and attraction should be used by professional managers to enhance employee retention and overall performance. More democratic styles of leadership based on team-building today seems to be more effective than conventional ones.


Mekraz, A., & Gundala, R. R. (2016). Leadership style and retail store performance. A case study of discount retail chain. Journal of Business and Retail Management Research, 10(2), 1-10.

Nye, J. S. (2011). The future of power. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

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