Power has a reputation problem.
When I use the word power, I’m referring to changing “what is” to “what can be.”
When I ask people to talk about power, they wrinkle their nose in disgust or say, “I’d rather not.” When I ask them why not, they offer up reasons why power is bad, saying things like:
- Power makes people selfish and insensitive.
- Power makes you over-confident, narcissistic, and corrupt.
- Having people makes you intimidating.
People aren’t wrong when they say these things about power. Who hasn’t worked for bosses who were all these bad things—and more? If personal experience isn’t enough, research affirms that some people who have power are selfish, corrupt, and cruel.
As a result of these unsavory encounters, power becomes the bad guy to be avoided, like the creepy stranger who lures kids into cars with candy.
The problem with this avoidance solution?
It leaves the bad guys in charge.
In reality, power, in and of itself, isn’t inherently good or evil. Power takes on either the goodness or badness of the person using it.
Power undirected by high purpose spells calamity; and high purpose by itself is utterly useless if the power to put it into effect is lacking. ~Theodore Roosevelt
Because so many people abuse power, we confuse power with the bad person misusing it and say we don’t want power.
When thoughts like this get into our heads, they can be hard to get rid of. However, for the greater good, now’s the time to let go of the notion that power is a bad thing and reclaim it as something good.
The problem? The bad person misusing their power
The problem with seeing power as an evil force to be avoided? This view removes the person who has the power from the equation. They become an innocent bystander to a situation of their own making. That’s not right.
Linguist Julia Penelope says the nouns we use and where we place them in a sentence changes how we, and others, interpret a topic. She says we sometimes go so far as even to forget that a person is responsible for what happened to us.
Julia uses the following series of sentences to illustrate this omission: John beat Mary. Mary was beaten by John. Mary was beaten. Mary was battered. Mary is a battered woman.
By the time we get to the third sentence, John has disappeared, and the topic has shifted from John beating Mary to Mary’s identity as a battered woman. When we make these thinking shifts, we delete whomever or whatever initiated the event.
We’re doing the same thing when we say power is bad. Power itself isn’t bad, it’s the greedy or egotistical person who’s changing “what is” to “what can be” to suit their own purposes who is.
What power does is that it liberates the true self to emerge. ~Joe Magee, a power researcher and professor of management at New York University
Professor of psychology and sociology G. William Domhoff notes that power is one of a few universal dimensions that humans encounter at the interpersonal, group, and societal levels.
Why is power’s universality important to recognize? Because doing good involves having and using power—but for the greater good, not personal gain.
It doesn’t matter if the doing good happens at work, at home, in the community, or in pursuit of social justice or equality. Changing “what is” to “what can be” requires power. If you’re like me and want society and workplaces to be more equitable, inclusive, and kind, we need power to effect those changes.
Eligibility checklist for power?
I confess. My tolerance for selfish, money-oriented, glory-grabbing people in positions of power has been exhausted. Because of that, I’ve been thinking about what can be done to ensure that the people who have power are the ones who can properly handle it.
Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power. -Seneca
Here’s what is on my list so far:
1) Change what’s measured and rewarded. Require that leaders at all levels be held accountable for people, principles, and profits. Measuring success only by dollars and cents perpetuates bad behaviors while encouraging more of them.
2) Call’em out. Rather than lauding their actions, criticize CEOs and Wall Street analysts who focus on only the bottom line. Who says capitalism must be heartless?
3) Take a leadership oath of office. Doctors do it. So do new citizens, politicians, soldiers enlisting for the U.S. Army, nurses, lawyers, and pharmacists. Part of the oath would be a promise to hold people, principles, and profits equally important.
What would you put on the power-eligibility list?
Image credit before quote: Pixabay
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When I was growing up, I envied the little boy next door. His mom asked him questions. Would you like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or soup for lunch? Will you spend the afternoon reading a book or playing?
That’s not how it worked at my house. My folks, especially mom, told me how it was going to be.
While I don’t think Mom intended for it to turn out this way, her telling style was a good life lesson. How so? It prepared me to deal with command-and-control style bosses who wanted answers straight up.
As I grew older, the questions my dad asked took a different twist. He asked lots of questions that began with “have you thought about,” “how/why,” or “help me understand.” Dad said he wanted to make sure I thought things through.
He prepared me to work for bosses who wanted thoughtful answers and options that demonstrated a command of the issues.
I worked for a boss a few years into my career who asked a whole new style of questions. He tested both the logic and emotion of his employees.
His rational was like that of Socrates, who was “well known for using questioning to probe the validity of an assumption, analyze the logic of an argument, and explore the unknown.”
That boss wanted to know how we were going to achieve both quality and quantity or how we would meet our short-term goals without jeopardizing our long-term position. Answering his questions required deeper thought and analysis of the big picture.
Only years later did it hit me that these individuals had gifted me with a well-rounded repertoire of knowing how to respond to or deal with different types of questions.
The key to wisdom is this: constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth. ~Peter Abelard
Sometimes questions are more important than answers.
Questions lead to discovery and meaning. They can eliminate confusion or point to hidden agendas. They help us reflect, develop critical thinking skills, or clarify intent and understanding. Questions help us make sense of our surroundings, distinguish fact from fiction, or define our purpose. Questions provoke lively debate, satisfy our curiosity, and prompt us to assess our assumptions.
A good question can disrupt, inspire, show humility, and open closed doors.
Research done by O.C. Tanner Institute showed that “asking the right question increased the odds of someone’s work having a positive affect on others by 4.1 times. It made the outcome 3.1 times more likely to be deemed important, 2.8 times more likely to create passion in the doer, and 2.7 times more likely to make a positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.” That’s powerful stuff.
He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. ~Chinese proverb
So why do we ask less and less as we get older?
Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas with Mu Sigma polled 200 of their clients on question asking. Clients who had children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions.
However, those same clients guessed that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions. Tom and Neethi attribute the reduction in the number of questions asked by the adults to working in a you-need-to-get-it-done-yesterday business environment.
“Leaders should encourage people to ask more questions, based on the goals they’re trying to achieve, instead of having them rush to deliver answers. In order to make the right decisions, people need to start asking the questions that really matter.”
Asking questions that really matter + actively listening to the answer + critically reviewing what’s been shared = a good thing.
A very good thing.
Image source before quote: Pixabay
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At one point in my career, I was a vice president in a Fortune 500 company that had $2 billion in annual revenues. I successfully managed a department of 150 people, consistently delivering projects ahead of schedule and under budget.
When asked by the CEO to describe me, can you guess what my boss said?
He said I was a “soft and round Aunt Polly.”
Wow, that stung.
I can’t deny that I’m a woman. That I’m blonde. And that I’m overweight.
But why would my boss describe me by my appearance and sex instead of my accomplishments?
Because I’ve hit the trifecta of stereotypes. Tilt, tilt, tilt for being a dumb, fat broad.
It’s 2019, and gender stereotypes still exist that make it challenging for business women to be seen as both a good leader and a good woman.
That really troubles me.
What about you?
Is that the kind of workplace culture we want for our children and grandchildren?
For the women and men who want their kids and grandkids to have a different experience, now’s the time to partner up for change.
Provided both sexes are willing to modify a few workplace practices, together we can change how leadership is defined and practiced. Together, we can put an end to the stereotypes that limit the potential and passion of too many.
9 ways to say good-bye to gender stereotypes
Here are nine actions you can take to bring equity and gender-balanced inclusiveness to your leadership practices.
1. Be mindful of gender stereotypes that influence your thinking about which sex is better suited for certain kinds of work.
Social conditioning nudges people to think about leadership in terms of masculine traits, a practice that puts women and feminine attributes at a disadvantage.
If you find yourself thinking that men make the better bosses because they’re good at taking charge and women the better assistants because they’re the best at taking care, stop. If you always ask the women in your meetings to take the notes or plan parties, stop. If you question the leadership potential of a kind-hearted man, stop. If you describe assertive women as shrill, stop.
Stereotypes push us to apply a specified set of expectations to a whole group of people, whether they apply or not. When we do that, we ignore individual attributes and deny people their potential.
2. Check for inconsistencies in how you select a man or a woman for a job or evaluate their promotion readiness.
Research tells us that women are judged on their past performance, men on their future potential. Why not evaluate all candidates on both their past performance and future potential?
3. Assure that all voices are heard equally in the meetings you conduct.
If the men keep interrupting the women, call them out. If the women remain silent, call them into the discussion. If anyone co-opts an idea that someone presented earlier, assure that proper attribution is given.
4. Monitor how you pay your people.
If you supervise others, look for—and correct—any wage disparities that exists between sexes, ethnicities, etc., holding the same positions.
5. Sponsor both women and men and be proactive about it.
For anyone who has the audacity to insinuate that an inappropriate relationship exists in a mixed sex sponsorship, call out their boorish and stereotypical thinking.
6. Let go of the incorrect myth that power always corrupts.
There are those who use the power of their position for personal gain, but don’t confuse power with the selfish person using it. Power reveals what a person already was.
7. Avoid the “parent” trap.
When a man becomes a parent, it’s assumed he’ll be more dedicated to his work because he has a family to support. When a woman becomes a parent, it’s assumed she’ll be less dedicated to her work because she has a family. Be on the lookout for these incorrect assumptions. Along the same lines, don’t penalize either moms or dads for using family leave time.
8. Don’t confuse physical presence with true inclusion.
Just because there’s a woman or a minority on a team doesn’t mean there’s an inclusive, participative environment with meaningful engagement. Ask yourself some tough questions about whether your leadership practices are reflective of real participation or just window dressing presence.
9. Be willing to be vulnerable so your biases can be detected and managed.
While we all work hard to not be biased, we still are. Create mechanisms so that the presence of biases, gender and otherwise, can be safely and nonjudgmentally identified and eliminated.
Seeing someone else’s biases is much easier than seeing our own. That means using tact, grit, kindness, persistance, and grace are essential for achieving progress, openness, and inclusion.
Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. ~Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and author
As you head out to work tomorrow, remember the shining eyes and hopeful faces of your children. Build the kind of place where you would want them to work.
Image credit before quote: Pixabay
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A former boss was well-known for his flamboyant language and turns of speech. One of his favorite analogies was to compare a leader’s job in dealing with conflict with being the pooper scooper at the circus.
He’d tell us it was our job to clean up the messes people on our team made.
Even though we frequently rolled our eyes when the boss was on one of his circus rants, his point was a good one. Why? Because usually what we had to smooth over was some sort of conflict. Something that could have been avoided had the situation initially been handled more thoughtfully.
For lots of reason, conflict is a challenge. People struggle to deal with it.
There are those who see conflict as a life-or-death scourge to be stamped out.
Some see differences of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience as deficiencies because they generate conflict.
These are glass half-empty approaches.
Conflict, while often messy. actually presents us with opportunity.
Bernie Mayer, Professor of Dispute Resolution at Creighton University, is a leader in the field of conflict resolution. In his book, The Conflict Paradox, Mayer examines seven polarities we often encounter as we try to make sense of conflict. The polarities are:
- Competition and Cooperation
- Optimism and Realism
- Avoidance and Engagement
- Principle and Compromise
- Emotions and Logic
- Impartiality and Advocacy
- Autonomy and Community
As with all polarities, the elements in each pair are but one side of the same coin. While the elements may sound contradictory, both of them are necessary for success and survival over the long-term.
As a team leader, one must realize the paradox that surrounds conflict. The team needs to embrace conflict as a means of generating and evaluating ideas. While at the same time, it must shy away from it to prevent frustration or alienation. The biggest challenge for the team leader is figuring out how to balance these two factors. ~Erich Brockmann, professor
It’s natural to prefer one element over the other. When we encounter a person who prefers the other element, there’s the possibility for conflict since we’re now dealing with a clash of interests. I like competition; you like cooperation. You prefer principle; I prefer compromise
As leaders, it’s our job to help those on our team transcend finger-pointing and right versus wrong arguments. Everyone is right!
So that conflict helps us grow and find the best solution, our job is to:
- Steer conflict from dysfunctional to functional, from destructive to constructive, from disregard to respect—all in pursuit of healthy conflict that facilitates innovation and openness.
- Assist people in dealing with issues as well as helping them remember the lessons learned in childhood about sharing and handling disappointment because rarely do we get 100 percent of what we want.
- Acknowledge inequity and injustice, frame solutions that draw from both poles contributing to the conflict, and assist people to recognize there’s always a greater good that transcends individual wants and wishes.
- Weave connection and humanize the difference. “The other” has a name, a face, and feelings, too.
- Build an environment where it’s OK to disagree, but it’s not OK to fail to listen and learn, or label “the other” as being wrong.
All legislation, all government, all society is formed upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy; upon these, everything is based. ~Henry Clay, 19th century lawyer and stateman
Sometimes the contents of the pooper scooper get heavy and smelly. However, that’s when we—if we want to call ourselves leaders—do our best, and most meaningful, work. Right?
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“Oh, come on. It’s just a little white lie. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?”
“Because it’s a lie, and it’s not so little.”
“Dude, you’re never going to get anywhere with that mindset. Sometimes you just have to stretch the truth. Everyone does it.”
Does everyone lie?
Well, kinda. Research about lies and truth doesn’t tell a reassuring story:
- Psychologist Robert Feldman has studied lying for more than a decade. His research isn’t reassuring—60% of people lie during a typical 10-minute conversation and that they average two to three lies during that short timeframe.
- USC psychologist Jerald Jellison determined that people are lied to about 200 times a day.
- A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that 25 percent of the time, people lied for someone else’s sake.
This (and other) research doesn’t square very well with a survey done by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge authors. They found that the most valued leadership quality is honesty. It led by a mile, signaling that integrity, truthfulness, and authenticity are hallmarks of character-based leaders.
To riff on an old AmEx tag line, honesty, integrity, and authenticiy are attributes no leader should leave home without.
Honesty consists of the unwillingness to lie to others; maturity, which is equally hard to attain, consists of the unwillingness to lie to oneself. ~Sydney J. Harris
If you’re a leader who sees value in truth and honesty, here’s seven things you can do to keep them front and center in leading yourself and others.
7 ways to keep truth front and center
1) Hold yourself and those on your team accountable for full truthfulness instead of what author Ralph Keyes calls “ledger-book” morality.
Ethics are judged on a sliding scale…If we add up truths and lies we’ve told and find more of the former than the latter, we classify ourselves honest…Conceding that his magazine soft-pedaled criticism of advertisers, one publisher concluded, ‘I guess you could say we’re 75 percent honest, which isn’t bad.’~Ralph Keyes
2) Encourage healthy debate and diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective. The most effective leaders encourage differing points of view and are careful not to position those who disagree as being wrong, a loser, or not likeable. They discourage groupthink and refrain from shooting the messenger.
The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.~Niels Bohr
3) Watch for opinions that masquerade as facts, and correct them when they get conflated.
4) Be transparent. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Hidden agendas serve no one well. Own up, not double down on, being wrong.
Leaders who are candid and predictable—they tell everyone the same thing and don’t continually revise their stories—signal to followers that the rules of the game aren’t changing and that decisions won’t be made arbitrarily. Given that assurance, followers become more willing to stick their necks out, make an extra effort, and put themselves on the line to help their leaders achieve goals. ~ James O’Toole and Warren Bennis
5) Make sharing the truth easy to do. Recognize and reward those who have the courage and candor to speak truthfully.
6) Welcome both/and polarities and manage the interdependent tensions that exist between them. Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen says leaders must manage overlapping visions, mutual problems, and common goals and the diverse nature of individuals, groups, and organizations. Difference isn’t an untruth; it’s the new normal.
People with different lifestyles and different backgrounds challenge each other more. Diversity creates dissent, and you need that. Without it, you’re not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs. ~ Paul Block, CEO of Merisant
7) Don’t give yourself a hall pass by believing your little lies are OK while those of others are unacceptable. Practice the South African philosophy of “ubuntu.”
[Ubuntu is] the essence of being human…it embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging. ~ Desmond Tutu, social rights activist
Untruths move from the fringe to the mainstream when we allow them to do so. It’s up to us whether or not we allow that to happen.
I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody. ~Lily Tomlin
Image before quote by Scott Webb from Pixabay
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