The Right (and Wrong) Kind of Power — and How to Get It
How do you feel today?
It is a gift to regularly practice checking in and doing our best to locate the source of any emotions. Our feelings help us to know what we want and don’t want and what gives us our greatest satisfaction. By reclaiming our ability to know, to choose, and to create from the ground of where our feelings originate, we connect with our personal power.
This simple question opens the door to our self-awareness and the ones around us. This is the foundation. Without it, nothing else works. Self-awareness is the first step toward.
By making awareness of our environment our guiding principle, we can take informed actions, start expressing our feelings in a healthy, productive, and appropriate way and encourage those around us to do the same.
When we understand what drives our perceptions, feelings, and actions we can recognize and change habits and patterns that do not serve us well. It helps us avoid making the same mistakes over and over and guides us towards more understanding and knowledge.
Of course, it means addressing our fears, anxieties, and other difficult emotions in a healthy way. In order to be a much-needed helpful manager, leader, colleague, and partner, we need to start with caring for our own struggles without falling into the victim mode. People are inspired by leaders who are self-aware, willing to show vulnerability, and learn from their journey.
Here are some helpful resources:
- “Managing in an Anxious World” from Harvard Business Review Big Idea Series. This article explores the reality of what it means to lead through anxiety in today’s world.
- And a new interesting study across 87 countries showing how reappraisal can help build resistance to pandemic-related stress.
Opinions Versus Bravery
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
It’s really intense out there. I hope you all are taking extra good care of yourself. August was a bleak and heartbreaking month. We are still experiencing ongoing socioeconomic, political, and ecological stressors with under-vaccination continuing to drive Delta surges (and resentment), landslides in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, the collapse of Afghanistan’s government as the U.S. withdrew, prompting a rapid takeover by the Taliban, and the release of a major new climate change report that can be summarized as a “code red for humanity.”
Again, there is an intensification of emotion and polarization. Again, our beliefs and principles are being tested left, right and center. Again, it is too loud out there. Opinions are everywhere with the need to judge — rather than to understand — and to be right. Opinions keep us lodged and locked in traumatic cycles. What we don’t understand, we fear. What we fear we destroy.
Why do we keep forgetting that judgment is a barrier, keeping us separate and frozen?
As leaders, we know that if we echo this circus of noise with reactivity, rage and frustration, we will not find any answers. When we harm another, we harm ourselves, and this goes for the Earth as well, with cosmic consequences.
There is a call for each and every one of us to think beyond the polarities and contribute regardless of the size of our corner of the world. It is our responsibility to appease, heal, restore and elevate to the highest vibration.
We are always the light we seek. We have a choice to either love or fear. We keep forgetting and we keep relearning what anchors us — the return again and again, to the heart, its unstoppable strength and indomitable bravery.
In other words, do not despair of this world. We are in wild times, for sure, but it is in such times that our character is forged, that our light shines brighter than ever.
So let’s move forward.
Every Leader Has the Company He Deserves.
If the pandemic teaches us anything, it is the craving for meaning, purpose and safety. If we can’t find certainty, we still want fulfillment and safety.
Safety not only means having food on the table and security in our lives; in the workplace, it means creating environments that provide enough emotional safety to give voice to employees’ thoughts and ideas. Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson has shown it’s a critical factor in understanding phenomena such as employee voice, teamwork, and team and organizational learning.
So why do we still have so many toxic cultures with far more serious consequences for employees? Research claims that employees exposed to toxic workplaces are at a higher risk of death from heart disease and stroke. They are also three times more likely to suffer from depression.
“Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts ….” — Robert Fulghum
Unfortunately, the disruption, anxieties and changing demands on employees caused by COVID-19 have only heightened the risk of a toxic workplace.
Toxic workplace behavior is generally when a person with some form of power, such as a manager, uses it to target another individual and cause psychological harm. This toxic behavior can be blatant, such as instances of harassment or verbal abuse. The behavior can also be less visible when a manager overlooks employees in the workplace or subjects subordinates to microaggressions.
Unfortunately for workers, these abuses are finding new ways to persist online. Mean behavior, incivility, manipulation, gaslighting, threat, coercion, humiliation, devaluation, bullying, aggressive behavior, and bad interpersonal treatment continue to pollute virtual operations with dramatic consequences for companies’ bottom lines and victims’ lives.
Often, people who have experienced psychological violence cannot clearly describe what has been done to them. They feel miserable, ashamed, fearful and hurt. When the company denies the abuse occurred and offers a discounted view of the abuse, the workplace victim is left with feeling unvalidated and abandoned.
Toxic behavior does not appear by accident, it is a profoundly complex and destructive problem that shouldn’t be underestimated. If left unchecked, it will lead to more ethical hazards and scandals.
“By uncovering the unconscious rules of the power game and the methods by which it attains legitimacy, we are certainly in a position to bring about basic changes.” — Alice Miller
Two Kind of Powers
“To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe …” — Teilhard de Chardin
To address toxicity properly and create safe and beneficial workplaces, we must educate ourselves, starting with what causes toxic and abusive behaviors.
For the author and abuse expert Lundy Bancroft, the core problem in toxic behavior is a distorted sense of right and wrong combined with a strong sense of ownership, entitlement, and a drive for control and power. In other words, abuse is a problem of attitudes and values.
Since the source of abuse come from cultural training, key role models and workplace enablement, which lead to the misuse of power, I would like to offer a broad perspective and a comprehensive look at Power and the influence of Power Over and its counterpart Personal Power.
Under The Spell of Power Over
“The world without spirit is a wasteland.” — Joseph Campbell
To understand the sources of abuse regardless of its form, we need to acknowledge the two kinds of power that lie inside every human being as well as any type of organization. One kills the spirit. The other nourishes the spirit. The first is Power Over. The other is Personal Power.
Power Over shows up as control and dominance. It is when we harm instead of love.
For thousands of years, individuals, as well as nations, have been motivated to control and dominate others. Our Western civilization was founded on Power Over with wars and chaos to assert power over someone, something else (for example, nature and its resources). It is basically a winner/loser or dominant people/subordinates model. When we believe in Power Over, we expect to get what we want through the use of Power Over another with possible denial for the value and quality of life.
Tragically, it is the only power that some of us know. And it is a real risk to us all. Living and acting through this paradigm has given us pollution, potential global annihilation, hunger and homelessness, prejudice, tyranny, and toxic workplaces.
For this reason, Power Over needs to be recognized wherever it shows up, basically everywhere, starting inside us. The truth is, we all can plead guilty to have, in one a way or another in our life, used Power Over to get something we wanted.
But there is an opportunity here to recognize what is at play and to awaken and value ourselves enough to free ourselves from the influence of Power Over.
We must hear and see ourselves. What words are we using? What actions are we taking? How can we protect and value the relationships in our lives and work?
Being In the Leader Chair, Embracing Our Personal Power
Love is the child of freedom, never that of domination. — Erich Fromm
This awareness can bring us to the realization of how we do or do not dignify, respect, protect, and esteem ourselves and ultimately all life. This is what leadership is made of, awareness, responsibility, accountability. We can begin considering a new way of being and perceiving the world in order to make informed decisions for our workplace. It is where we activate our Personal Power. Personal Power works by mutuality and co-creation.
Mutuality is a way of being with another person which promotes the growth and well-being of one’s self and the other person by means of clear communication and empathetic understanding.
Co-creation is a consciously shared participation in life that helps one reach one’s goals.
Mutuality and co-creation sustain Personal Power. Both parties bring themselves to the relationship as a whole and separate people. They are secure in their relationship to themselves. Because of this safety, neither has a need to exert power over the other. One of the gifts of living in this reality is the realization that we can neither accept nor tolerate the devaluation of another person. Because by such acceptance we devalue ourselves.
Personal Power comes from one’s connection to their own feelings, one’s recognition of their needs and wants, and one’s acceptance of the responsibility for their own life. It increases through cooperation with and participation in life.
Interpersonal communications specialist Patricia Evans reminds us that “When we have this relationship with ourselves and with the world around us, we not only experience our own creativity and Personal Power, but we also perceive the world to be a mutually supportive and creative place.”
Do you see the potential for our companies, for our world?
This is how we can create safe and thriving companies where all are interdependent. We can empower each other and derive our power from connecting with the mutually sustaining power of life in its creative and nurturing aspects.
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another!” — Anatole France
On this seemingly frenzied, chaotic Earth, we always have a choice. As a leader it is our responsibility to know more, to know better for the sake of good behaviors and informed decisions. From awareness, responsibility and accountability come change. Of course, it is not easy, we choose change because we have to. Change comes from the edges, trials and errors; it is expansion beyond the pain with growth and the lessons inherent in it.
What do we want to take with us, what are we willing to leave behind, what bridge do we want to build to a new paradigm: one that supports life?
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” ― Maya Angelou
Courage is needed.
The courage to move through the deepest parts of ourselves and realize, that even though so much feels out of our control, beyond shadows and disguises, there is meaning and purpose that can ultimately free our souls.
In his autobiography “The Seven Storey Mountain,” Thomas Merton asks a Buddhist monk met during his Asian pilgrimage what is the knowledge of freedom, he received this answer:
“One must ascend all the steps but then, when there are no more steps, one must make the leap.”
I leave you with this beautiful poem “Finisterre” by David Whyte. I thank you for taking the time to do this reading with me. I am so grateful to journey alongside you.
Meanwhile, please remember I am always here for you. I built Strat & Shield Co. to remove obstacles for my clients and work through their pain points, clearing the way for them to move forward confidently, nurtured by a healthy and safe company culture of their own making. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. I’d be honored to answer any inquiries that arise.
I will be back in October. Until then, be well,