The current book I’m reading titled “Power“ written by Kemi Nekvapil, a much admired coach of mine, inspired me to write this blog post. You should totally read the book! My biggest take away so far is the many ways in which we give our personal power away and how to reclaim it.
What is Personal Power? The topic is huge. There are so many different types of personal power, it’s nearly impossible to find the one great definition that nails it.
I’m going to keep it simple by shining a light on how the person standing in another person’s power feels. Standing in another person’s power will either be a positive or negative experience. As a leader you should be aware of how the way you show up impacts others and makes them feel.
Negative Personal Power
For most of my 20 years in corporate, the personal power that I encountered the most, is what I call the ego power. You can feel it walking into a room before someone with it even sets foot in that room. This type of power is not limited to one gender. In fact, it’s found in all genders.
Let’s be honest. We all know someone or even a few people who show up like that. The ego driven power is more bravado than real power. If you as a leader show up with ego power, you will find yourself coercing others into getting what you want. Why? Because when a person stands in the shadow of that power, they perceive it to be a negative force mainly used for personal gain.
Ego power makes people feel small, less than, nervous and fearful. They are nervous of saying or doing the wrong thing because they fear the consequences and as a result don’t feel safe enough to speak their truth.
With this type of alpha power comes the idea that not everybody can have power. Only a privileged few are entitled to it. Last time I looked though power is not a pie, where if someone has more someone else has to have less.
Positive Personal Power
Internal Power is the other type of power I have encountered much less often. I describe internal power as an aura. People feel this power or aura and perceive it to be strong and powerful yet at the same time it is an invisible, silent, humble power a person exudes which impacts me but doesn’t stop my own power from co-existing with it.
When you are on the receiving end of this type of power, you feel it radiate. It dances with your own internal power to create balance (much like in that photo above) and goodwill results. The impact left on you has a positive energy and inspires you to be at your best for this person.
This is real personal power. It sparks trust and creates psychological safety. The two key ingredients for willing cooperation.
Qualities of People with real Personal Power
People with real personal power:
🔹 enable others to shine without needing to be in the spotlight themselves
🔹 don’t fear making mistakes and owning up to them
🔹 are great listeners because they don’t feel the need to enforce their viewpoints on others
🔹 don’t feel threatened by other view points, in fact they encourage the diversity of thought
In my observation, the other qualities that people with personal power seem to have are:
🔹high levels of self-confidence
🔹good dose of self-worth
Leaders with these qualities have a natural ability to build trust and a solid following.
What does Authenticity have to do with Personal Power?
Research has shown when you become a leader or executive, you are likely to show yourself from two different sides. You are more likely to be authentic at home around your family & friends and less so at work.
Unrealistic expectation and corporate cultural norms and systems can make it seem like you need to be the type of leader that knows it all, does it all to be seen as a strong, capable leader. The glorification of leader dominance puts pressure on people, especially new leaders, to show up with this ego power. Ego power in this instance is just a front, put on like a suit, to hide insecurities, perceived short comings, limiting beliefs and other confidence or self-worth issues.
When you as a leader don’t lead from a place of authenticity, you participate in the glorification of leader dominance. It doesn’t take long for others to notice your front of bravado and withdraw their willing support. As a result, you as their leader have no choice but to resort to a command and control style of leading.
Truly great leaders view their role as an act of service, not as an avenue to gain power over others, exert their authority, or gain attention.
5 Ways to access your Personal Power?
You do not need to be an executive or leader to have personal power.
The good news is that personal power is not something you need to be born with. You can cultivate and learn this skill. This means you can start building it at any time before you obtain a leadership role.
1. Build and practice your confidence
Confidence doesn’t just show up overnight. It comes with mastery. Mastery comes with practice and practice means you will make mistakes. Accept that (see below).
There are days where your mistakes will illicit unkind comments from passive aggressive work colleagues. People have bad days. You missing opportunities may also put a dent in your confidence.
You may want to run and hide but these setbacks should not affect your confidence levels permanently. Keep working on building your confidence regardless.
If your confidence levels are low, your personal power levels will also be low.
Negative setbacks cannot steal your internal power if you have confidence. Tap into confidence by:
- Looking for the silver lining in every situation
- Build a network of supportive people around you
- Look for the evidence of your past successes and celebrate them instead of downplaying them
2. Accept making Mistakes
During my corporate career I have witnessed many people wanting to be perfect. Myself included. It is freeing to understand that perfection is not the goal. It is unattainable. The goal is excellence. Excellence comes with mastery, mastery comes with practice and practice inevitably comes with mistakes.
We feel so much shame when we make mistakes because for some reason the corporate world has decided that mistakes mean failure. Failing doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. It just means you didn’t succeed that time. You can only fail if you stop trying. So learn from your mistakes and try again. Building your resilience helps you build your confidence.
3. Focus on what you can control
There are so many things that scream for your attention throughout any given day. Accept that you do not have control over every outcome. Focusing your attention on things that are beyond your control will only leave you feeling powerless if the outcome is not what you hoped for. Given that you had no control over it in the first place it makes no sense to want to control that outcome.
Instead, give your full attention to the things that are within your control. Let everything else go. In the long run this will give you steady outcomes. Those will build your confidence and personal power levels.
4. Learn to Listen
There is an art to listening. Most people listen with the intent to respond. They are already thinking about what they are going to say before the person they are listening to is finished talking. By doing this you are not really hearing what is being said. You are even too busy formulating what you are going to say to ask questions.
Instead, try to listen with the intent to understand. In this mode your attention is focused on what is being said and your mind is being primed to ask questions. Being curious helps you to clarify and really understand the meaning of what is being communicated. This builds your knowledge and grows quiet confidence.
5. Be comfortable with vulnerability
Employees watch you quite closely. They want to know that what you say matches what you do. Be authentic in your interactions. You can learn more here about authentic leadership here. Treat others with kindness and empathy. Neither hurt to give but go a long way to building trust and brave spaces. When you as a leader show vulnerability, gives employees permission to do the same. We all know that humans make mistakes. Yes, unless you as a leader are not human, that means you too. Take accountability for your mistakes. Normalise making mistakes without the blame and shame you will be pleasantly surprised what happens when your team members know they won’t be punished for making errors.
Call to Action
People leave leaders not companies. Read that again.
I know myself how hard it gets to seek honest feedback from the people you lead as you climb further up the corporate ladder. Employees can perceive your positional power as a threat and as a result might only tell you half truths. People will only tell you what they think you might want to hear to keep themselves safe.
There are also leaders who may think they no longer need to ask for feedback as their self-esteem is so overinflated, they believe there is nothing they need to learn above what they already know, so never feel the need to ask or seek self-improvement. Don’t be this type of leader.
How many times do you come across the bold, loud, “look at me” power type versus the strong, humble and invisible type at work?
As a leader, which type of power do you exhibit? Do you even know and if yes how? What truth would your team tell you?
What is holding you back from being your authentic self at work and what do you need to do to let go of the bravado to become the great leader that you can be?
The world, now more than ever, needs more authentic leaders with personal power that sparks trust and draws people in to provide their support for change willingly. Become that leader.