Leaders and culture: how to handle power?

Being aware of power and how power alters your and others’ perceptions and responses helps to handle power better. This is crucial if you want to develop a positive culture at work and achieve high performance. Here’s part 2, based on Julie Diamond’s book “Power – a user’s guide”. This is recommended reading for leaders of all levels and useful for other people, too. Let’s take a look.

Power is our capacity to impact and influence our environment: it’s the force to do, and the freedom to not do. As the scholar Paul Watzlawick said: you cannot not influence. So, how would you like to use your influence?

In part 1 we’ve explored our power base and how power alters both your and others’ perceptions. Now, let’s look at how to handle power well.

Meet and master emotions

How to become a great leader, without underusing of overusing your power? How to handle power well? You have to do the work on yourself: self-development (also recommended in the Positive Culture Academy). Fix your issues, so that you feel at ease in your own skin and be at your best to serve others. How?

We all experienced low-rank while growing up, and in other areas of your life you may have low rank and less power. That’s why the gap exists between the power we have and the power we feel. And how you feel drives your behavior! Often, leaders (and other people) feel that they don’t have enough power. This impostor syndrome makes you hide incompetence and ignorance. “What if the others find out that I am not good enough? Not smart enough? Not…” Do you recognize that harsh inner critic?

This feeling of low-rank induces a limbic state, a strong emotion – such as fear, hurt, outrage, depression, and anger. This inhibits your brain and reduces your creative and logical thinking.
Negative emotions are stronger than positive emotions – so it’s important to not suppress them but look then in the eye. Use your ratio to gain some perspective. Before you can master power you have to master your emotions by personal development.

Power is like a substance: a shortcut to feeling better. Without healthy self-esteem and self management, we may be tempted to abuse our power. Personal power is the anti-dote to this. That comes from within, not from the high-ranking role.
Viktor Frankl described personal power as the freedom to choose our attitude and response to whatever happens.

Your power print

That’s why Diamond (and me, in my book Developing a Positive Culture) recommend to be aware of your “power print”: your subjective, perceived sense of power. For power goes: What you see might not be what you get. A rich boy from a rich family can feel low-rank inside, based on being the Benjamin of the family or having health issues. A poor kid can feel high-rank based on her intelligence, or the emotional support she gets from her family.
This boy and this girl might act differently as leaders! The way we use power depends on our self-perceived power and our wellbeing (and that of the people we lead) depends on it.

How to handle power well

Diamond offers some guidelines to handle power well. For instance: know and like yourself, including your weaker points (accept or improve them). This helps you be authentic: you know yourself and you have nothing to hide. Accept your vulnerability, you’re not perfect and that’s okay.
Tame your triggers: if you’re triggered you respond from a low-rank state. We react rather than respond, we self-protect instead of serving the whole organization or purpose.
Beware of dependencies: wean yourself off of the praise of others and, my favorite (see my book): Don’t take it personally! People project onto leaders, they are scrutinized, criticized, stereotyped.
Be prepared for this – it’s the role. But, don’t be blind: you cannot criticize an employee without wondering what you could have done better to help them perform. As a leader, if you have negative feedback for someone, you should have some for yourself, too. How are you part of the situation or interaction dynamic?

The role was there before you and there will be others to occupy it after you’re gone. It’s a public good. Share the role by empowering your team, and by giving credit. Stay humble.
You’re not wonder woman or super man. You can’t know it all and do it all.
Know your needs: to feel good about yourself, to belong in a group, to have good relationships, to avoid pain and discomfort.
Satisfy them in your personal life, not through your leadership role.

Last but not least, what if your boss doesn’t use power well? Try some “leading up”. We all learned to influence others with power over us – your parents, teachers, and so on.
Remember your own rank: you’re great and valuable as well. Don’t overestimate positional power. See yourself as the partner of your leader: they are an individual that needs support, information, ideas, they have needs as well, and you’re a valuable partner. Offer your two cents of wisdom, offer help, ask great questions.

  • How’s your freedom to choose our attitude and response to whatever happens – how’s your personal power?
  • Do you experience low or high self-perceived power within?
  • Do you know and like yourself? Are you authentic in your role?
  • Do you satisfy your needs in your personal life? Or at work?
  • What are your triggers and how do you manage them?
  • What are your dependencies? How can you wean yourself off these?
  • Can you see how you are part of the situation when you give negative feedback?

© Marcella Bremer, 2021. All rights reserved.

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