Friday, June 18, 2010

More about Power

Yesterday, I wrote about power in the workplace, and specifically about how our attitudes about power shape our use of it. But power is a neutral force. It can be used for good or ill.

Many of us, especially those of us who are trying to be "good," are afraid that power is bad, perhaps because we have seen it used so badly. But what about managers who use power to protect and promote their employees? What about foundations or even politicians that use their power to bring about social justice? What about lawyers who use their power to free the wrongly accused?

Because of our attitudes and projections, most of us draw a line on exercising power. If we move much beyond that threshold, we can become very unconfortable. Even afraid.

It can be useful to explore this discomfort. What happens when you cross your threshold? What are the consequences that you fear? That someone will be upset, or will not like you? That you will be fired?

Or that you will succeed, and will be revealed as outstanding and original?

We all know people who will not do anything the slightest bit controversial without asking permission first, even if they are sure it is ultimately a good thing. They want to have cover if things go wrong. But that can also mean that someone else will get the credit if things go right. And more importantly, that their other good ideas may never find the light of day.

Is there a small thing you can try today without asking permission first? If you do it, will you be punished for going "over the line," or will you be praised for "showing initiative?" Are you sure? And how do you feel about that?

What happens if you continue to experiment with that threshold? With using power instead of giving it away?

We all have a lot more power than we think. But like anything, our power, and our comfort with it, can only grow with use.


(Thanks to a reader for asking about power, and specifically, the giving away of power, at work. I hope this has been helpful, and if you have a topic you would like to see The Corporate Zendo, please let me know!)

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