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.
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.
Business can lead to cutthroat competition in more ways than one, but I learned that the darkest moments also can lead to the greatest triumphs and best business lessons.
It’s the worst experiences that sometimes teach us the most important lessons. I encountered turbulent times in the inner city of Los Angeles as I built my company into a trusted institution among underserved communities.
My employees and I faced harrowing experiences, such as armed robberies and threats from the mob, which hoped to block some of his expansion plans. The 1992 riots that erupted after a jury acquitted police officers in the beating of Rodney King proved especially distressing. Many businesses were looted or burned to the ground, so we had to scramble to protect my check-cashing locations.
It was gratifying to learn that loyal customers prevented some branches from being torched albeit in unexpected ways. A gang member called us to say he’d always been treated with respect at Nix, so his gang had decided not to burn our buildings because we were part of the community.
4 business lessons learned from hard times
My experiences taught me a number of valuable lessons that relate both to business and life, such as:
This applies to everything that happens, including things you can’t control. Once when an economic downturn left me unable to pay my bills, I contacted each creditor to explain my predicament and work out a payment plan. This upfront approach helped me to avoid bankruptcy.
Never play the victim role or blame game.
Avoid replaying misfortunes over and over in your mind. Accept setbacks gracefully and concentrate on getting back on track. In the 1990s, a business deal that went awry nearly forced me to sell my company, but instead I focused on solving the problem and stayed in business.
The most debilitating human emotion is fear. Learn to keep it in perspective, minimize it when applicable, and harness it to your benefit when need be. Standing up to bullies as a child set the stage for me to be able to stand up to the mob.
Operating with fair play and compassion is important in building trust. The way some community members protected some of our branches during the riots reflected this. Treating people fairly and supporting community programs paid off.
Good times may be more enjoyable, but challenging times provide more opportunity for growth. Realize that bad people, tough times and mistakes are your teachers. Always ask yourself, “What business lessons do I need to learn from these events?”
Today’s guest contributor is Tom Nix, author of the memoir Nixland, a pioneer of the check-cashing industry, and currently a public speaker and writing focused on helping people overcome obstacles and be successful.
Just like spring breezes and pollen, conflict is in the air.
Contentious attitudes are everywhere. We find them in the media, in workplaces, in our social media feeds, in the streets, between friends, and at the dinner table. Civility and respect for other’s rights to have their opinions are beginning to feel as outdated as a wall calendar.
A number of people have shared how they’re struggling to stay calm and deal with the friction and discord swirling around them.
I’m struggling with that, too. You?
I’m also struggling with discovering I didn’t know people I thought I knew. It’s been hurtful to be on the receiving end of their unpleasant attacks. Their darkness tugs at some dark spot in me that cries out to respond in kind.
Lessons from a wise man
That feeling isn’t new. I experienced it back when I worked in labor relations and contentious was the flavor of the day, every day.
Joe had been a labor relations attorney longer than I was old and was willing to help me learn the ropes. The first lesson he taught me was how to disagree without being disagreeable; the second was not to make things personal by attacking others.
He believed conflict wasn’t logical or rational but rather emotional and relational. What we think shapes how we feel and act. For many, feelings become facts.
The same issues that lead to protracted conflict (e.g. values, status, and identify), are also the triggers of strong emotions. People who feel ‘unfairly attacked, misunderstood, wronged, or righteously indignant’ are typically overcome with emotion and respond with hostility and aggression. ~Michelle Maiese, Emotions, Beyond Intractability
Joe said only a silly person believed they could solve a conflict based in differences of opinion or perspective. He said people needed to accept that, in those situations, conflict is a fact of life.
Here’s his wise counsel for dealing clashes of interests:
See conflict as something ongoing that needs to be managed; not exterminated like termites.
Aim for a constructive, goal-oriented solution that gives everyone a small win.
Strive for outcomes that improve performance.
Look to advance the greater good; there’s something bigger than all of us out there.
Accept that differences of thought, opinion, and perspective are both healthy and uncomfortable.
Handled without skill, patience, or compassion, conflict can easily become ugly, leaving people frustrated and angry. Don’t go there. Find a way to let respect over-rule self-righteous anger.
Take the high road and be productive, not the low, unproductive one.
That last point about making conflict either productive or unproductive is crucial. Conflict, handled constructively, can be an instrument of growth. Handled unproductively, well, too many of us have experienced unpleasant attacks—that sometime get so bad that relationships and friendships are lost.
Wondering which side of that productive/not productive line you sit on? Imagine you’re a party to a conflict that’s flared up because of differing principles and values. Think about what you would normally do when you feel your needs, interests, or concerns are threatened. Then take a look at the table below.
If more of your actions fall on the left side of the table, take a step back and reflect. It’s likely you’re not letting people feel heard, respected, or free to voice a dissenting opinion. Aren’t those things you’d want people to do for you?
How conflict makes us productive…or not
Refuses to see other’s position
Open to exploring another point of view
Respond with anger or accusations
Respond calmly and respectfully
Acknowledges thoughts or feelings and doesn’t try to justify
Reasons or argues others out of their invalid thoughts and feelings
Approaches issues with facts, not emotions, saying when you do xx in this situation, I feel yy
Withdraws love and compassion
Continues to care and be compassionate
Nonverbal communications (facial expressions; posture; gestures; pace, tone, and intensity of voice) are hostile
Nonverbals are agreeable, pleasant, nonthreatening, and friendly
Focuses on winning and losing
Understands that success is more than a score or coming out on top
Passionately defends individual power and rights
Seeks mutual interests
Dredges up the past
Focuses on the here-and-now and the future
Refuses to let go of any contrary issue
Knows when to pick a battle
Makes it personal
Doesn’t let things become personal
Always goes with the gut; doesn’t see the need to research or seek to understand
Gets the facts from checking multiple sources
Denies being wrong
Shows courage and openness to being wrong
Co-mingles and conflates people and problems
Respects people, attacks the problem
Jumps to conclusions
Gathers additional information before deciding
Intolerant of differences
Refuses to negotiate or compromise
Aims for inclusive consensus
Is eager to escalate, exaggerate, or embellish
Stays level-headed and keeps to the facts
Demands my-way-or-the-highway allegiance
Commits to working together to work it out
Presumes that others will live up to and/or accept their expectations
Gives others room to have their own expectations
Thanks to Joe all those years ago, today, whenever I’m facing a vocal someone who passionately sees things differently than I do and who’s starting to get under my skin because all they can say is that I’m wrong, wrong, wrong, I take a step back and think about their right to think differently.
I have to understand and respect that I’m never going to change someone else. Only they can do that.
I know I can’t control the other person’s response, but I’m in total control of mine.
I have endeavored to remember that the object of life is to do good. ~Peter Cooper, industrialist and philanthropist
“You’re a total idiot! No one in their right mind thinks that way.”
Those words were from a conversation happening at the far end of the coffee shop. A conversatiion that kept getting louder and louder. Everyone in the shop knew the people back there were talking about immigration.
The “idiot” fellow had shared that immigrants deserved compassion. From the ugly debate and name-calling his words produced, it was obvious he was in the minority.
I was recently involved in a similar but less passionate discussion about regarding leadership. My conversation partner believed the best leaders were the ones who kicked butt and took names. I believe the best leaders practice tough empathy because effective leaders are both tough and tender.
My conversation partner was one of many in a long string of people who got worked up about leaders being tender and humane. That’s for wussies was their thinking.
Why are caring and connection so threatening?
Time for research.
I looked into emotion, fear, love, neuroscience, psychology, leadership, and change management.
Not defaulting to fear
Machiavelli’s words about fear—that it was more reliable because it can be “maintained by dread of punishment, which never fails” and that “it was safer to be feared than loved” popped up several places.
Safer. What a fascinating word choice. Machiavelli didn’t say fear was better than love, just safer.
Funny how a single word can unlock a whole new line of pondering—what’s so unsafe about a leader who cares?
A couple of answers popped into mind:
Expressing love does makes us vulnerable. We have to get close; fear can be elicited from a distance.
Detachment doesn’t ask for an emotional investment, empathy does.
Reaching out is harder and riskier than walking away. We put ourselves on the line.
My pushback to these thoughts? Fear and love aren’t forever either/or choices. People need them both.
Sometimes we need a warm heart; others times a cool head. Sometimes we need a boot in our bottom; other times it’s the comforting hug. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but not be disagreeable towards those who see things differently.
How can we learn to replace defaulting to fear with seeking to understand and doing what’s right for the situation?
I found these words from Umair Haque, author, economist, and Director of the London-based Havas Media Lab that helped me answer that question:
Those who truly wish to be leaders in an age of discontent—not merely its demagogues, bullies, hecklers, and tyrants—will have to turn reject and refuse ruling through fear, and toward leading with love.
Leading through love means overcoming the ever-present temptation to abuse and belittle people, to guilt and shame them, to mock and taunt them — to force them into line.
It means creating the conditions for them to grow into following the principles that you espouse. It means not just arguing tendentiously with nor patronizingly explaining to people things that they are not ready to, equipped to, nor prepared to understand, but putting faith in people — even those who damn you — first, always, everywhere.
Wow. Those are some powerful thoughts on getting right with fear and love.
After reading Umair’s words, I thought about the fellas in the coffee shop as well as my colleague and I.
In those situations, no one was getting through to anyone. No heads or hearts were being changed. All anyone was doing was making noise. Rattling our sabers of fear, certainly not extending compassion or empathy or promoting goodness.
Create a chain reaction of goodness
To find the sweet spot of respect without defaulting to fear, it’s necessary to:
Honor and respect other’s right to think, feel, and act differently.
Accept that we’re not always right.
Not allow evil and hatred to make us numb to what’s good, paraphrasing Henry Adam’s remark that evil is done by those who think they are doing good.
Be mindful when words and phrases like either/or, should, or need to be control our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Assure we’re practicing both logic and emotion as we chart our lives.
My promise to myself? To replace my wagging finger with grace and aim for creating a chain reaction of goodness.
Ten years ago, in the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps won the Gold Medal in the Men’s 100M butterfly beating out Milorad Cavic by a mere .01 second. Literally, in the 1/30th time it takes to blink, Phelps’s dreams were realized, and Cavic’s were dashed.
Over the course of your lifetime, it’s inevitable that you’ll face this same struggle.
You’ll be told no. You’ll be rebuffed. You’ll even be harshly rejected because of differences between you and your competitor that may seem minor or even trivial.
The good news for Cavic was that he won an Olympic silver medal, something to place on his mantle for future generations of the Cavic family to view, awe, and admire.
When you earn second place, you get nothing…nada…the big goose egg.
So, how do you avoid this harsh reality and always finish first?
The truth is you can’t.
That reality means you need to build what our colleague, Kendall Colman, calls your “rejection muscle” because you’re going to be told “no” way more often than not.
Since you’re going to be told “no” 70-80 percent of the time, you’re going to need to know how to handle rejection.
6 ways to handle rejection
We offer six ways to handle rejection:
1) Understand that “NO” is not negative, it’s only feedback. Life is neutral. The only one who is placing a label on this event is you.
2) Remember that labels are sticky. Once a rejection occurs, it’s easy to move the label from the event to ourselves. Ever hear yourself saying these things? “I suck.” “I’m a terrible person. “I’m such a loser.” Breathe and stop with the labels. Interrupt your “label” thinking with “It’s just experience.”
3) Reflection is not just a three-syllable word. Most people make the same mistakes over and over because they never ask themselves or their colleagues, customers, etc., what they could have done differently. People will often be incredibly open with you about the reasons they said “no” if you ask them.
4) Embrace being #2. We once visited a coffee roaster who said, “Our Company likes being #2. We know that our competitor’s best clients are just one mistake away from calling us.” Never burn a bridge. Stay in contact. Catch up at networking events. Never stop being a resource for them.
5) Be a resource broker. What’s the fastest way to become someone’s #1 choice? Send your prospect “a trickle” of contacts that they need to know either personally or professionally.
6) Realize you are not the Godfather. In the movie, The Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone famously mumbles, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Remember, the workplace is not the mafia. Make friends with those you see as your competitors—give them reasons to like and trust you. This advice may go against every dog-eat-dog, business-world, spidey-sense you have; but remember, your competitors are just like you. At times, they’re overwhelmed or need the help of outside expertise.
So, here’s our point, the possibilities to be rejected are limitless, but so are your ways to graciously respond to them.
Today’s guest contributors, Tim Brown and Dan Streeter, are the co-authors of Old School with New Tools: The Extra 5% That Takes You to the Top of Your Sales Game and Keeps You There.
A colleague and I were at a publishing conference. We were attending a session on how to be a more effective writer.
“Schedule time every week for serendipity,” advised one of the session panelists. “If you schedule time for serendipity, you’ll make it happen. If you don’t, it won’t; and your skills won’t improve.”
“Did she say to schedule serendipity?” I whispered to my colleague.
How ridiculous, I thought even though I’ve been the beneficiary of accidently tripping into discoveries. Despite my past good fortune, the speaker’s counsel troubled me. From my perspective, there was absolutely no way to schedule a fortunate accidental discovery—serendipity just happened. Right?
Curious about maybe having missed a nuance in the definition of serendipity, I did some research. I hadn’t missed anything.
Author Horace Walpole invented the word serendipity in 1754. A Persian fairy tale, The Princes of Serendip, had been his inspiration. In the fairy tale, three princes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.”
That confirmed my belief the speaker had it all wrong. Sadly, I mocked her advice on several occasions.
Shame on me.
And for that, I got my comeuppance.
I was doing online research about dogmatism for my book. I’d just read the definition of dogmatism, a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises, when the aha zap happened.
My reaction to the speaker’s words about scheduling serendipity leapt into mind.
Ewww. It hurt to see it and to say it, but I’d been dogmatic. I’d been that person; the narrow-minded one I criticize when I see people acting the same way I had.
I’d blindly accepted as fact that my belief that it was impossible to schedule serendipity without examining her meaning. I had heard her words, interpreted them with my dogmatic filters, and outright rejected her position.
Shame on me again. Her advice wasn’t wrong, it was flat out brilliant.
In a time-starved world where there’s a plan and time slot for everything, it’s pure genius to leave time open for spontaneity. Time to think, daydream, be. Time for accidental discoveries to happen.
Of course, you can’t will the eureka moment to happen in those moments. However, making time to reflect increases the odds of creativity, inspiration, and innovation happening.
That’s what the speaker had meant. She was telling us to avoid the tunnel vision that comes from having an over-packed schedule and too much to do. She was telling us to make room for unpredictability and possibility.
*big sigh* How could I have been so dogmatic, so obtuse, so blind?