This week I had the opportunity to attend a women’s leadership symposium in Washington D.C. As I reflect back on the content and the speakers, one of the sessions that stood out for me was on power. The word power is often used as a negative, for example, “The zombie queen used her powers for evil instead of good.” or “The politician used his power to hire his friends, instead of the most qualified candidates.”
In this session we talked about the different types of power and when having it or using it can be a good thing. At one point the facilitator asked her audience members to complete three statements and then discuss our answers with our neighbor. We followed this by sharing some of our thoughts with the larger group. The three statements were:
- I feel most powerful when…
- A true sign of power is…
- People often underestimate the power of….
Most of the attendees felt most powerful when they were a) doing something or speaking about a topic they were very knowledgeable in b) doing something they loved doing and felt like they were making a difference and c) were dressed up or felt very good about their appearance going into a specific event.
There were very similar answers about the true signs of power. The attendees shared that true power happens when a person can influence or engage others and/or get other people to follow him/her without having the authority or position to do so. They do not need to have a leadership title. This is a person that attracts others to him/her and people naturally want to be around them. In addition their actions help drive results. Power that does not drive any results, is not very powerful!
Last, there were a variety of answers on “People often underestimate the power of….”. My personal views cover two areas. First, people often underestimate the impact of one interaction. Every interaction with every person, can either make that person’s day or life, better or worse. Then, considering the “social media effect”, the impact of that single interaction can also impact one or many others.
Second, people often underestimate the power that they hold, even without a leadership title, and that every person has the ability to make a difference. I have seen this play out over and over again. Just this week one of my direct reports shared an email where a business partner simply stated that they were no longer going to fulfill a specific business activity, and that my direct report had to figure out a coverage plan. My direct assumed that this was “truth” and she had to find a way to cover. My view was, no, this is not acceptable. We need to go back to the business partner and negotiate.
Power is spectacular when used for good and to add value and make a positive impact on others. I recommend that you reflect on the statements above, and perhaps use them to have some lively conversation with your colleagues and team members. It’s about “power to” versus “power over”.