“Cheryl, you know more about these work processes than most of the folks up there. Did you apply to be a speaker?” I asked, wondering why my colleague was sitting next to me in the audience rather than participating in the panel discussion at the national conference we were attending.
“I thought about it but decided not to.”
“Once I get promoted, my chances of being a speaker will be better.”
Six months later, Cheryl called to tell me she’d been laid off during a company reorganization. The reason? She wasn’t a “cultural fit” anymore. Her replacement? One of the individuals who participated in that panel discussion.
Cheryl’s limited understanding of power coupled with her reluctance to embrace what she thought she knew about it contributed to her undoing, and she’s not alone. Given the negative associations surrounding the topic, who can blame them? However, we can’t hide behind power’s lack of appeal and abdicate using it. Doing so robs us of our ability to effect constructive change.
When we think of power, we most commonly think of position power — the authority and influence associated with holding a particular job or position within an organization or some other social hierarchy. This is the form of power Cheryl was referencing when she felt she needed a promotion before she was qualified to be a speaker.
But what Cheryl overlooked was another form of power — personal power. Personal power is rooted in ourselves — what we know, how we feel about ourselves, and how we conduct ourselves when interacting with others. It’s driven by our self-esteem (“I am worthy”) and self-efficacy (“I can make a positive difference”).
3 ways to embrace your personal power
There’s a smorgasbord of personal power available to us from which we can pick and choose in any particular set of circumstances based on our needs, wants and confidence level.
Make room for compassion.
In his book “The Ways and Power of Love,” Pitirim Sorokin, a former leader of the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism, details the positive force of altruism. Today’s research abounds with studies showing the lack of employee engagement in most workplace. By being strong and powerful enough to practice empathy and kindness, imagine the increases possible in employee engagement, connection and loyalty.
Dare to be the “angel’s (versus devil’s) advocate” contrarian.
When the boss is headed down a path of questionable morals, it requires character and guts to disagree. Sometimes, we have to step into our personal muscle and exercise the capacity to stop things from happening.
Sometimes we have to be strong and powerful enough to admit our weaknesses because the perfect circumstances will never happen. “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” writes Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.”
Power is a lot like love or happiness; there isn’t a single perfect source for it. We must be both willing and open to seek it in multiple of sources and be smart and confident enough to mix up the sources we use to produce the right outcome for the right time.
This post first appeared at Smartblog | Image credit before quote: Gratisography
While discussing the push/pull polarities of influence styles at a workshop on Power, Persuasion and Influence that I was facilitating for a group of Fortune 100 executive women, one woman shared a moving observation with the group: while knowing which style of influence is best to use depending upon the situation is important, the real issue is one’s willingness to take the risk to influence, especially if the status quo is in question.
Her courageous workshop action item was to take that risk.
She said she owed doing so to her colleagues, the organization and herself.
What a powerful moment.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. ~Leo F. Buscaglia
Sometimes the risk is being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when your colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian, and/or dancing with the elephant in the room. Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stake gamble. Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?
According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University, “Risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.” Risk-taking can yield great rewards and possibilities for learning provided you’ve done your homework ahead of time.
7 questions: are you ready, willing to take a risk?
You must have high EQ, PQ (political quotient) and a thorough knowledge of your work culture to assess your tolerance for workplace risk-taking.
1) Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo? Are you prepared to accept possible negative outcomes? Are you willing to see your credibility erode? Are you equipped to lose your job?
2) Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns? Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?
3) Are you able to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company? Are you primed to be a role model and/or attacked?
4) Do you have solid solutions already in mind? Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?
5) Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?
6) Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure? Will your self-esteem survive the hit? Can your ego resist the adulation of success?
7) Do you have the will to see it through? Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?
Risk tolerance is extremely personal.
Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone.
Either way, be prepared, be thoughtful, and do what’s right for you.
The majority of managers and employees are good people who believe they are balancing their values—such as honesty and responsibility—with what’s needed to get the job done.
But this belief is often far from the truth.
While we would like to think that we control our decisions and actions, social norms and expectations significantly influence our behavior.
Research shows that a person’s behavior isn’t a result of personality and character alone—our environment plays a big role, and this includes the workplace.
At work, we shape our reality to feel good about ourselves, even if our actions are less than honest. Most people engage in small dishonesty up to the point when they can no longer delude themselves. For example, we might not steal from the petty cash drawer, but we take some pens home.
Managers may claim that a tough (and questionable) action was simply a “business” decision, not an “ethical” one. Or, to reach insurmountable sales goals, managers and employees may come up with the “perfect” solution: raising prices instead of production.
3 ways your values get hijacked
In a toxic corporate environment, your values can be hijacked one of three ways:
“I think it’s okay to do this.” Sometimes, we look at the world through rose-colored glasses: we see things as more positive or less risky than they actually are. When this rosy view helps us to avoid a sure loss, it can seem like a win‐win for everyone. In this context, actions and behavior that are less than savory seem okay, even when they truly are not.
“I know it’s wrong, but I have a good reason for doing it.” Under the pressure to meet short-term goals, bad decisions may look like great decisions — especially when people feel they don’t have a choice. For example, many people say “family” is their number-one value, and they will do whatever it takes to keep their families financially secure. If this means performing an unethical act, so be it. And if speaking up increases the chance that a person might lose their job, they’ll remain silent.
“I know there’s something wrong here, but it’s not my problem.” Disengaged employees can “fly under the radar” for a long time if they’re not involved in outright misconduct or overtly destructive behavior. Instead of taking ownership of problems and situations, they are leaving critical issues unresolved because they no longer care. As one manager once said: “Success and failure feel the same here. Why should I care?”
Do you see such signs of a toxic corporate culture at your company?
If so, don’t dismiss them as normal employee behavior. When employee values erode, the results can be catastrophic for your business, ranging from lower productivity and profits, to ethical violations and workplace accidents.
Today’s guest post is by David Gebler, founder and president of the Skout Group, which fixes ailing organizations and improves corporate productivity, reputation, and success by focusing on value-based ethics and culture risk management. A sought-after speaker and panelist, he is author of The 3 Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance. You can contact David Gebler at : email@example.com.
Like love, power is one of those words that is rarely spoken in the workplace.
And, when it is, those conversations usually happen in whispered tones and follow a flagrant example of power gone wrong like when:
– A CEO believes he or she is above the law, an attitude that leadership ethicist Terry Price defines as “something that’s wrong for others but OK for me.”
– A newly promoted manager is intoxicated with their authority and bosses everyone about.
– A quiet someone who has a dissenting view refrains from speaking up because they believe they lack sufficient influence to affect outcomes.
Power gets a bad rap. It’s misunderstood or used improperly. Some say it corrupts. Others believe it to be evil and self-serving. Truth is, in and of itself, power is none of these things. It’s simply the neutral capacity to deploy resources to generate change and achieve results. It’s only in how one chooses to use, or not use, power that it becomes good or bad.
Looking back, no one ever taught me about power: what it was or how to use it effectively. No college class curriculum or leadership workshop addressed it. Bosses didn’t bring it up in performance reviews or staff meetings. As with many things that exist in the shadows, incorrect assumptions loom large.
3 incorrect notions about power
1) Because I am the boss, I am all powerful.
It’s not quite true that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That only happens if you let it happen. Research shows that people who believe they have power become less compassionate, less connected, and see others as a means to an end. They view themselves as above the law and adopt an all wise mentality.
Rather than embrace such a kingly position, it’s best to remember that all work gets done by and through people, so staying connected and open to the input of others should remain high on a leader’s priority list. Resist the siren song of believing you’re above the law and better than others simply because you have a high responsibility, high authority position. Stay self-aware.
2) Because I’m not a boss, I don’t have any power.
Au contraire! Just as one can be a leader even if one isn’t the leader, the same holds true for power. Power is readily available from a multitude of sources provided you have the courage and foresight to take it and use it.
You don’t have to sit in the corner office job or even supervise others to have power. Power can flow from your expertise, connections, access to information and strong interpersonal communication skills. Personal power is a state of mind in which you confidently believe in your own strength and competence.
Character-based leaders walk the talk as defined by Rosabeth Moss Kanter when she writes “powerful leaders rely more on personal power than job title, or credentials, to mobilize their resources, inspire creativity, and instill confidence among subordinates.”
3) I don’t want power because it will corrupt me.
Power will corrupt you only if you let it. Formal and informal leaders influence others. Influence goes hand-in-hand with power (whether one wants to admit it or not). Shying away from any position or personal power leaves you powerless, without the ability to shape outcomes or make a positive difference.
“Power is required if one wants to get anything done in any large organization,” says Stanford University professor Jeffery Pfeffer. “Unfortunately, power doesn’t just fall into one’s lap: one will have to go after it and learn how to use it.” Positive use of personal power helps a business effectively realize its mission and goals.
What other notions about power have you seen where you work?
NEW REPORT REVEALS STEPS WOMEN MUST TAKE TO ATTAIN POWER AND MORE SENIOR LEVEL POSITIONS
Researchers Also Detail What Corporations Must Do To Be Part of The Solution
A new paper, Women in Business & The Paradox of Power, based on research by Jane Perdue of The Jane Group and Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting, reports that corporations are leaving money on the table and forgoing future success by failing to move more women into senior leadership roles. Perschel and Perdue also claim that businesswomen must prepare themselves to take on these executive roles by understanding and using power more effectively.
In their study, which involved hundreds of senior level businesswomen, Perdue and Perschel find that many women relate to power in ways that prevent them from attaining senior level positions, be it lack of confidence; cultural conditioning; or simply not understanding what power is. In-depth interviews with women who have attained the highest-level positions of influence reveal that they understood and used different approaches to gain power and make important changes to business culture and leadership practices.
Reshaping a male-dominated business culture, changing the ratio of women to men, and thereby improving bottom line results, requires a very specific set of actions by those currently in leadership positions as well as by women themselves.
Women in Business & The Paradox of Power: What Women Must Do
• Know power and be powerful
Perdue and Perschel define power as the capacity to get things done and bring about change. Not so for many of the research participants who think of power as “being in control at all times,” or “deciding and announcing,” among other misconceptions. Sixty-one percent of survey participants hold mistaken views about how to advance their power (and themselves). The authors emphasize that women must study power, understand power, and use their power to change the culture of business.
• Ditch Cinderella
Over sixty percent of the participants preferred passive approaches to gaining power, opting to be granted access, rather than actively taking it. Unlike Cinderella, women cannot passively wait on the business sidelines, hoping business culture will change and hand them the most powerful decision making positions. Instead, they must seek power, advancing both the change agenda and their careers. As one executive vice-president who heads a $300 million dollar business advised, “The success police will not come and find you.”
• Show up. Stand Up. Voice Up
Fifty-two percent of the barriers to power that participants identified are personal and internal, e.g., “what I need is a constant drip-feed of confidence.” With women comprising nearly forty-seven percent of the entire workforce, holding forty percent of all management jobs, and earning sixty-one percent of all master’s degrees, they are uniquely positioned to work towards dismantling legacy organizational barriers and stereotypes.
• Forge strategic connections
Relationships are the currency of the workplace, yet sixty-seven percent of the women in Braithwaite & Germane’s study are not taking charge of building their networks. To fill more than the three percent of the Fortune 500 CEO positions they currently hold, women must become masters of strategic networking as well as building alliances and coalitions.
• Unstick their thinking
Thirty-eight percent of participants opted for being well-liked rather than powerful. Perschel and Perdue contend this need not be a choice. Based on research conducted at Stanford University, women are uniquely capable of moving beyond such an either/or mindset. Leaders, both male and female, too often limit solutions by framing problems as a choice between two mutually exclusive options.
Women in Business & The Paradox of Power: What Corporations Must Do
• Make gender balance real
Having more women in senior leadership roles is correlated with a substantial increase in total return to shareholders, which is a performance metric for most CEOs. Why, then, do so many heads of companies fail to hire, develop, and promote women for clout positions on senior leadership teams? Executives at the highest levels must move beyond positioning gender balance as politically correct and giving it perfunctory lip service on the corporate agenda. If they are serious about gender balance, they must position it as a business imperative.
• Remake leadership
Despite decades of efforts to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, the needle on this corporate metric has barely moved. Gender bias is prevalent in the very way leadership is defined – a take charge, have all the answers, aggressive style. Corporate leaders must change both the definitions and practices of leadership. Women will help them do so.
• Walk the talk. Develop women leaders
Seventy-one percent of firms responding to a survey conducted by Mercer, the world’s largest human resource consultancy, do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy to develop women for leadership roles. As some of the approaches that work for men do not work as well for women, corporate leaders must invest in modifying these programs to develop women and then follow up with promotional opportunities.
Women in Business & The Paradox of Power: About the authors.
Jane Perdue is the Principal of The Jane Group, a female-owned professional development organization, and the creator of the new Women’s Leadership Institute for the Charleston, S.C. Center for Women.
Dr. Perschel is known as “an unstoppable force advancing women leaders.” She is president of Germane Consulting, an executive coaching and organization development consultancy.
Both have been featured as leadership and women’s issues experts in newspapers and magazines, as well as on television and radio.
Utilizing their research and relative corporate experience, Perschel and Perdue lead and advance aspiring professional women through mentoring, sponsorships, coaching, and development programs. By identifying key obstacles such as those uncovered in WOMEN IN BUSINESS & THE PARADOX OF POWER, they help women and organization leaders identify the issues they must resolve to ensure cultural change and enable women to reach the highest pinnacles of success.
The one about letting us know compromise isn’t acceptable anymore.
Somewhere along the way, compromise (defined by Merriam-Webster as a settlement of differences by consent reached through mutual concessions) got confused with capitulation or collusion. It’s portrayed as selling-out or being a weakling.
My parents and experience have taught me that compromise is a natural part of life, love, and leadership.
Mom and Dad did a great job in teaching me what’s illegal, immoral and unethical. Not compromising one’s values and beliefs around legality and ethics makes perfect sense, yet many of the situations we face every day don’t reach that status.(more…)