I heard Pattie Sellers, a former editor for Fortune magazine, speak on the topic of power. Pattie had been responsible for creating Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women list for nearly two decades. She said that even though the women she interviewed had amazing stories of their climb to the top, they all seemed to wince at the word power. It wasn’t until she had a third interview with Oprah that this bias against the word power changed. Oprah realized the word power was generic while the application of power could mean many things.
No matter your position at work or in life, you can access different types of power other than the power that comes with a title or wealth. Which types of power are you using?
Oprah explained that when people speak about power, they generally are referring to the dominating view of power over others or getting people to do what you want them to do. She didn’t like that sense of power. When she finally realized her power was to have an impact that benefited others, then she fell in love with the idea of being powerful. Instead of power over people, she uses her power for people.
Power over others is vertical, looking down on them. Power as impact is horizontal, influencing the world outward from where we stand. Whether you are impacting your family, your work group, your community or the world, you are wielding your power.
The more you accept that you are powerful, the more good you can do.
Also, power doesn’t have to be aggressive or even visible. You can powerfully create and impact change without attracting attention to yourself if you choose.
Choose how to use your power
Which power do you use? Could you amp up your power when needed, or switch your approach if what you are doing isn’t working? Do you know when you are giving your power away?
- Power Over– where you force or convince people to behave a specific way using threats, conditional rewards, or facts, often one-sided, that prove your point.
- Positional Power– when others comply with your decisions and suggestions due to your title, job responsibility, or recognized expertise.
- Relational Power– when others accept your decisions and suggestions because they trust your perspective, appreciate how you treat them, and they like being with you.
- Inspirational Power– when you achieve a desired result by inspiring, encouraging, and giving hope to others. Often, they are attracted to your values, ethical stance, and vision (people believe as you do and want what you want).
- Altruistic Power– when you work hard to create an environment or circumstances where others can realize their power or potential. They achieve their goals because of the path or foundation you laid.
- Empowerment– when you transfer responsibility and full authority to a person or group. You then operate to support the development and use of their power.
- Relinquish Power– when you give up your power to others either willingly or due to your fear of consequences. There are times you might choose to put your energy elsewhere, deciding it is not worth it to you to defend your power.
Can you consciously choose what power to wield in a situation? Although you might prefer to develop Relational or Inspirational Power, there are times when you need to exert Power Over others. Ask any parent or manager who catches an employee breaking a safety rule. Sometimes you urgently need to make and implement a decision. These events could require you use Positional Power. Do you know when using Positional or Power Over is helpful or harmful to your long-term impact?
Altruistic Power and Empowerment is effective when you believe that a person or team can accomplish great results with your support instead of direct participation. You may choose to Relinquish Power if the fight isn’t worth your time and energy. However, you first must claim that you have power before you can give it away. Then you are making a choice that serves you instead of giving in to someone push for power.
Defining the type of power to use in a given situation will help you to fully embrace your power. Answering these questions will help:
- What will it take for you to admit that you have talents, skills, and wisdom that people admire and recognize?
- What will it take for you to feel pride for the impact you have on others or for your contribution in the success of a situation?
Norman Vincent Peale said, “People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking they can do things.”
Also, when you embrace your power, you are better able to empower others. As Marianne Williamson said, your acceptance of your power gives permission to others to accept their own.
There is beauty in using or transferring power consciously with good intent. Claim your right to choose how to use power today.
You can find tips for maintaining Relational Power in uncomfortable conversations in The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.
If you would like to talk about leadership skills training and coaching focused on improving emotional connection, please reach out to me at: https://outsmartyourbrain.com/contact/