I have an uncomfortable relationship with power. We’ve known each other since back in the day, and over the years there have been times when we’ve barely said hello to one another, and other times when we’ve been best buds. Whether our relationship has been virtually non-existent or whether we’ve hung out quite a bit together, I’ve always felt a bit awkward around power. I guess you could describe my relationship with power as, well, complicated.
I want to use power wisely and for the benefit of others, but at times I’m hesitant to fully embrace it for fear people will think I’m being egotistical or bossy. I’ve been learning I need to move beyond that self-limiting belief because neglecting to appropriately leverage power can lead to several unintended problems.
You sell yourself short – Most people don’t fully appreciate how much power they have. Power manifests itself in many different ways:
- Knowledge – The power that comes from having a specialized knowledge base or expertise
- Task – The power derived from being able to perform a specific skill, operate equipment, or perform a certain task
- Relationship – The power you have from leveraging your personal relationships with others
- Position – The power that comes from your position or title
- Personal – The power of your personal character attributes such as strength of character, passion, interpersonal skills, and ability to communicate well with others
Failing to tap into your bases of power is like a boxer going into the ring with one hand tied behind his back. You’re limiting the value of your contributions when you fail to utilize the power at your disposal. It’s not being egotistical to humbly and sincerely bring your full skill-set to the table.
You shortchange your colleagues, team, and organization – Not only are you selling yourself short by not embracing your power, you’re short-changing everyone else of your valuable contributions. Your team and organization is relying upon you to perform at your best and that means using all the various tools in your toolbox. Being overly hesitant to walk confidently in your power means your team will likely produce a sub-par product because you didn’t offer your best.
You create a bad precedent – Our patterns of behavior dictate how people know us. We use certain behaviors on a consistent basis and people come to expect and rely upon us to always behave in that same manner. If you choose to never use your power then people figure that’s just how you roll. The problem comes when you decide you do need to play the power card. It catches people off guard because it’s inconsistent with your past behavior and it leaves them baffled about why you’re doing a sudden about-face. It’s important to authentically own your power and make it a regular part of your behavior so people come to expect it as a natural part of you being you.
Power accompanies leadership; there’s no getting around it. There are specific principles we can follow to guide our use of power and it’s critical we find a healthy way to express it. Otherwise we fail to live up to our own potential, we hold back from delivering our best to our team, and we create expectations with others that limit our influence.