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Don’t be afraid of personal power

4 min read


Cheryl, you know more about these work processes than most of the folks up there. Did you apply to be a speaker?” I asked, wondering why my colleague was sitting next to me in the audience rather than participating in the panel discussion at the national conference we were attending.

“I thought about it but decided not to.”

“Why’s that?”

“Once I get promoted, my chances of being a speaker will be better.”

Six months later, Cheryl called to tell me she’d been laid off during a company reorganization. The reason? She wasn’t a “cultural fit” anymore. Her replacement? One of the individuals who participated in that panel discussion.

Cheryl’s limited understanding of power coupled with her reluctance to embrace what she thought she knew about it contributed to her undoing, and she’s not alone. Given the negative associations surrounding the topic, who can blame them? However, we can’t hide behind power’s lack of appeal and abdicate using it. Doing so robs us of our ability to effect constructive change.

When we think of power, we most commonly think of position power — the authority and influence associated with holding a particular job or position within an organization or some other social hierarchy. This is the form of power Cheryl was referencing when she felt she needed a promotion before she was qualified to be a speaker.

But what Cheryl overlooked was another form of power — personal power. Personal power is rooted in ourselves — what we know, how we feel about ourselves, and how we conduct ourselves when interacting with others. It’s driven by our self-esteem (“I am worthy”) and self-efficacy (“I can make a positive difference”).

There’s a smorgasbord of personal power available to us from which we can pick and choose in any particular set of circumstances based on our needs, wants and confidence level.

Make room for compassion. In his book “The Ways and Power of Love,” Pitirim Sorokin, a former leader of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism, details the positive force of altruism. Today’s research abounds with studies showing the lack of employee engagement in most workplace. By being strong and powerful enough to practice empathy and kindness, imagine the increases possible in employee engagement, connection and loyalty.

Dare to be the “angel’s (versus devil’s) advocate” contrarian. When the boss is headed down a path of questionable morals, it requires character and guts to disagree. Sometimes, we have to step into our personal muscle and exercise the capacity to stop things from happening.

Embrace vulnerability. Sometimes we have to be strong and powerful enough to admit our weaknesses because the perfect circumstances will never happen. “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” writes Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.”

Power is a lot like love or happiness; there isn’t a single perfect source for it. We must be both willing and open to seek it in multiple of sources and be smart and confident enough to mix up the sources we use to produce the right outcome for the right time.

Jane Perdue is a leadership-development speaker, writer and founder of Braithwaite Innovation Group. Perdue is @thehrgoddess on Twitter and blogs at LeadBIG.