I had a funny self-conscious comment that came across my path the other day, and it had to do with the concept of power. The comment was in the line of “now that XYZ happened, you have all of the power”.

It made me laugh because I thought, “I don’t have any power, what in the world are they talking about?” And it dawned on me that their concept of power and mine are two worlds apart.

Power, in their definition, appears to be the Webster dictionary definition of “legal or official authority, capacity, or right”. Basically due to position, authority, or rights the power is mine. Title or proximity suddenly “gave” me power!

I completely reject that concept in the workplace.  It is offensive to me to think that just because I have a title or someone else has a title, or a majority of direct reports, or whatever authoritarian seeming set of circumstances, that this gives me inherent power. In fact, I don’t like to think of myself having power of any sort with that definition at all! Power is a loaded term, bringing images of force and fear. This other party, this self-conscious person, they truly don’t understand how you get things done in a powerful way, because that definition of power that they have is not actually truly powerful.

This definition of power is the kind that breeds resentment, and actually makes people not take you seriously. I laugh to myself when anyone introduces themselves with their full title or listing a bunch of credentials in a spoken conversation when the basic “I’m in accounting” or “purchasing” or whatever basic general function will do. There are rare moments where the full title or credentials are necessary, however those times are few and far between.

Think about yourself. How are you going to react to someone who comes over to you with an urgent request and says “Hey there, uh, John is it? I am the director of legal and I need you to do this for me, by this deadline” and then walks away? Or maybe even gives a threat of “and if that’s a problem I’ll take it up with (boss above your boss/CEO/Scary person du jour)”? You’re maybe going to do it, maybe you’re not. And the whole time you’re going to be upset that they just came over and lorded their position over your head to force you to do something. Even worse, from that point forward you’re going to be MORE resistant to helping that person, forever! There is no respect in this type of “power”.

No, I prefer to think of myself as having gentle influence and infectious passion. I prefer people to “follow” my ideas or instructions because they want to. Because I approach them as a peer (no matter their status or level), they hear what I have to say and agree, or at least understand and commit even if they disagree. I prefer my passion for doing the right thing for whatever my cause is infectious, that after repetition of the concept the bug gets the other person and they too become passionate and jump on board to help because they sincerely WANT to. This is managing by influence.

Does this give me power? Maybe from the outside looking in it seems so, but from the inside looking out there is no “power” in this. The other party can change their minds. They can negotiate, heck they can even take over and infect me with the bug of their passion and then we’re all on another better path altogether. This is mutual respect, this is leadership. Not power.

Imagine the same situation as above with this approach: “Hey John, how’s it’ going? I’m Jane from the legal department, (brief small talk), cool, well the reason I’m bothering you is that I have this thing I need help with (why it’s important, important details), and I hear you’re the one who can help me. I am so sorry for the fire drill (this is what happened) and I hope you have the ability to help me out. Is that possible? How can I help make it easy for you to help me? Great, I owe you one, you’re the best”.

So maybe this is a bit over the top in the flattery department but see how much better that feels? You’ve gotten them on board to your cause by helping them feel why it’s important and then allowing them to feel like it’s their choice to join you. You’ve shown interest in their own priorities and workload by showing you’re concerned about making your task easy for them if possible. You’re doing everything you can to make it easy for them to say yes. And time and again they’re going to want to help you in the future when you need it, because in their mind they weren’t only helping you, they were helping themselves. They bought in and so the task is as much theirs as it was yours. And because you approached them as a peer, even if you weren’t a peer, they are going to be endeared to your cause because they can put themselves in your shoes.

This interaction can be as quick or as long as you want, the words don’t have to be specific, but the energetic impression of the intention inside of you to respect them will be transferred, and this is how you get what you need. And apparently to this poor self-conscious person, this looks like wielding power.

As you go about your days, think of these concepts, and maybe put this second method to use, and see how powerful you really can be, without any power at all.


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