Power doesn’t only alter our own judgment, it also changes how people perceive and relate to us. Power has a bad name, especially for those aspiring to be positive leaders. In a positive, productive culture we don’t want to emphasize power and we like to keep the power distance small. We value equality and mutual respect. However, trivializing power doesn’t make it go away. Can we trust ourselves with power? How could we handle our power well and be positive leaders?

During a workshop from Julie Diamond, I learned that it’s best to be aware of power. Even when the word power is a taboo. “People often correct me and say we should talk about authority or influence, not power!”, says Diamond. She’s an American leadership consultant and the author of the book “Power – a user’s guide”.

Your Personal Power

Power differences between people are inevitable, also in flat organizations or groups of friends. We all have power somewhere, based on our position, our talents, our character, our beauty, our contributions, our wit. People have a social rank that differs for each context. You could be the formal leader, or the oldest child in the room, the best salesperson or the kindest friend. Your social rank varies: power is contextual. Power happens naturally and helps to establish order in a group.

For instance, Diamond always noticed a cheerful clerk at her airport kiosk. One day she asked him: How come you’re always good tempered? He answered: “I make people happy. This is my counter so the people that I serve are friendly.”
He used his personal power and influenced his customers even when they were grumpy and in a hurry. That’s what I often call your “personal positive power” in this blog: your contribution to developing the culture of your team or workplace!

Social Rank

Even when you think you don’t have power, you do. Power comes in many shapes and forms.
What kinds of power and social ranks do you possess? In general, the broader your base of power the better. This goes both for individuals and for teams.

For instance, if your team relies on intelligence what happens when there’s a conflict? The expert knowledge won’t solve the conflict, but the servant leader (or positive co-worker) with emotional intelligence might. The more types of power a team or individual acknowledges the more resilient and resourceful they are. Diversity truly helps. The broader your power base, the less you overuse, underuse or abuse your power, says Diamond.

Types of Power

What’s also interesting is that not all powers come with you to another context. Power is truly contextual. In a new context you can’t find your mojo, for instance. For example: You feel like the queen of your team. But what do you draw on when entering a new project where nobody knows you? Your rank is undetermined. You start from scratch.

What powers do you have in what contexts?

Some types of power could be:
Relational power
Expert, knowledge power
Authority/position power
Persuasive or charisma power
Social status based on gender, nationality, pedigree, wealth
Power based on access to resources
Physical power
Skills and talents power
Network power (the insider)
High justice power (fighting for the noble cause)

Which ones are your favorites?
What is your favorite super power?

In the next post, we’ll look at power in organizations. The Lens of Power distorts how others see us and how we see others with a different social rank. Power abuse happens when you over-use or under-use it. A positive leader is aware of power and its impact. Being aware helps to create safety in your team, even though people have different social ranks!

© Marcella Bremer, 2019. All rights reserved.

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