Everyone has a part of their psychology intimately interested in power, status, control and order. As social beings, we typically define our own level power in comparison with others. We are continually scanning the people around us to determine and influence our status within the groups that we interact. It is less common for us to invest energy and effort into understanding our power in isolation from others, without comparison and without judgment. To do this one must have the capability to really embrace their power, really accept that they are powerful and that they can wield power with others and out in the world.
Despite the massive inroads that have been made in terms of women moving into executive and senior leader positions in large organisations, senior teams are still chiefly comprised of men. This presents a significant problem for women – and not in the way that you might think. The problem stems from the fact that power operates differently in male psychology than it does in female psychology. Power in the male psychology is much more geared around domination – and there are many studies now that show the strong relationships between power, aggression, sex and violence in men. For many men, if they feel that they cannot dominate or control others, they feel powerless – their sense of power is actually defined by domination of others. So when women move into senior positions where the inevitable political machinations and power struggles begin to play out, they are often, unwittingly stepping into an arena that is defined by domination tactics. Unfortunately, over time many women adopt these male tactics as their own strategies and then wield their own hybrid form of male/female domination. Not only does it just not work for women, it simply recreates and reaffirms a culture of competition, domination and aggression.
At the other end of the spectrum are women in Executive Assistant and Personal Assistant type roles, where power is often defined (by themselves and others), through their relationship to “the boss”. That is, because they are EA/PA to the CEO/CFO/… they wield power by association. Sometimes this can be beneficial from a tactical perspective: they can influence others, expedite tasks, etc. using their associated power. Sometimes it is not beneficial, as the EA/PA can be treated with the same distrust, disdain and duplicitous behaviour that employees often reserve for managers and/or “the boss”. With great power comes great responsibility, and this is very true for EA/PA roles, because expectations are often incredibly high and they are expected to work the same hours as their boss, without the commensurate remuneration. Sometimes, women in EA/PA roles can fall into the trap of having to do everything in order to keep their boss (and themselves) looking good.
None of this is healthy power. None of this is healthy, period.
Healthy power comes from within, not from external sources. If nothing else, there is a very real logical benefit to this: if you place your power in something external and that something leaves, what happens to your power? That’s right, it leaves also, and then you’re left with no sense of power. The most powerful stance that you can take is to completely embrace your own power, your own sense of self, your own sense of worth and worthiness. If you can fully embrace your own power, then you can begin to understand your relationship with power and how it affects you: how it drives the way that you think, the way that you feel, the decisions you make and the behaviours you ultimately engage in. By developing this awareness and understanding, you can mindfully make powerful leadership decisions for the benefit of your self and others.
The last thing that any woman should do is model the poor power dynamics of men. If large organisations are to succeed in the current economy, they actual need to invest more energy and effort into creating leaders who can utilise their power in effective ways: building strategic alliances, holding firm to core company values, keeping talent engaged in the strategic vision, making hard decisions and acting decisively. They need leaders who can follow the middle path, who believe that they are no better and no less than anyone else. They need leaders who have a strong sense of presence, who can create a space and hold that space without being distracted by the noise that other people make.
So how do we create leaders with a strong sense of personal power. The first step is for the person to get really clear about what it is that they want. What is it that would fully realise their potential? By placing our focus and attention on our potential, on what is ideal for us in terms of our leadership potential means that we don’t waste resources on unhealthy power dynamics. And the more powerful we feel in ourselves, the less affected we are by other people’s power dynamics.