Like love, power is one of those words rarely uttered in the workplace. And, when it is, those conversations happen in whispered tones, usually following a flagrant example of power gone wrong. A CEO believing what leadership ethicist Terry Price defines as “something that’s wrong for others but OK for me.” A newly-promoted manager intoxicated with authority who bosses everyone about. A quiet someone with a dissenting view who refrains from speaking up, believing they lack sufficient influence to affect outcomes.
Power gets a bad rap. It’s misunderstood or used improperly. Some say it corrupts. Others believe it to be evil and self-serving. Truth is, in and of itself, power is none of these things. It’s simply the neutral capacity to deploy resources to generate change and achieve results. It’s only in how one chooses to use, or not use, power that it becomes good or bad.
Looking back, no one ever taught me about power: what it was or how to use it effectively. No college class curriculum or leadership workshop addressed it. Bosses didn’t bring it up in performance reviews or staff meetings. As with many things that exist in the shadows, incorrect assumptions loom large.
3 incorrect notions about power
1) Because I am the boss, I am all powerful. It’s not quite true that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That only happens if you let it happen. Research shows that people who believe they have power become less compassionate, less connected, and see others as a means to an end. They view themselves as above the law and adopt an all wise mentality.
Rather than embrace such a kingly position, it’s best to remember that all work gets done by and through people, so staying connected and open to the input of others should remain high on a leader’s priority list. Resist the siren song of believing you’re above the law and better than others simply because you have a high responsibility, high authority position. Stay self-aware.
2) Because I’m not a boss, I don’t have any power. Au contraire! Just as one can be a leader even if one isn’t the leader, the same holds true for power. Power is readily available from a multitude of sources provided you have the courage and foresight to take it and use it.
You don’t have to sit in the corner office job or even supervise others to have power. Power can flow from your expertise, connections, access to information and strong interpersonal communication skills. Personal power is a state of mind in which you confidently believe in your own strength and competence. Character-based leaders walk the talk as defined by Rosabeth Moss Kanter when she writes “powerful leaders rely more on personal power than job title, or credentials, to mobilize their resources, inspire creativity, and instill confidence among subordinates.”
3) I don’t want power because it will corrupt me. Only if you let it. Formal and informal leaders influence others. Influence goes hand-in-hand with power (whether one wants to admit it or not). Shying away from any position or personal power leaves you powerless, without the ability to shape outcomes or make a positive difference.
“Power is required if one wants to get anything done in any large organization,” says Stanford University professor Jeffery Pfeffer. “Unfortunately, power doesn’t just fall into one’s lap: one will have to go after it and learn how to use it.” Positive use of personal power helps a business effectively realize its mission and goals.
Ready to get some positive power?!