Wake Up and Smell the Power

Power is one of those words that carries a lot of baggage. Some of us think we have no power in a situation and others might think we have all the power.

It’s been our experience as mediators, with the opportunity to talk with multiple parties in a dispute, that often times each party thinks the other party has more power.

That’s a sobering insight into the nature of power.

In interpersonal relations, power can be understood as the capacity to influence others. Authority is one source of power but there are many other potential sources of power. These can include your own record successful projects, appealing to common positive values and your capacity to communicate collaboratively and persuasively.

As a leader you have some authority that comes with your position. It may be a small amount or it may be considerable. What we want to invite you to think about, is that you most certainly have more influence on those you serve than you are aware of. Many people are afraid to speak up to perceived power and even if you are the nicest person in the world, your position will often stimulate feelings of powerlessness in those who report to you.

One way that you can often enhance the positive side of your influence on others is to become more conscious of how you use your power. Note the different ways power is used in the following examples with our fictitious boss and employee. This is a scenario where the leader is discussing a decision that needs to be made with their employee.

Note in particular that there is some transparency about how the leader is using their influence:

“Jennifer, you sound a bit anxious about it, but I believe you can do it. What do you need from me in order for you to take the next steps?”

“As long as it is amenable with Jennifer, I would like to work out together how to approach it. If we can’t come a to mutually satisfactory direction in the next half hour, I would like to pick this up again at 9:00am Friday.”

“Jennifer, I would like to put the ball in your court. How do you think we should come to a decision?”

We hope these examples increase your awareness of how you have used power in the past and how you might be more conscious of it in the future.

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