Tapping the Untapped Power of Power
Weak leaders struggle to gain power.
Insecure leaders fear losing it.
Power is good, it gets things done. Power is bad when it’s used to abuse and manipulate others for selfish ends.
Who takes organizations further? You’ll go further with teams of powerful people. Those who never use power are doomed to be controlled by others.
Warren Bennis interviewed 90 individuals who were nominated by their peers as most influential leaders. They all shared one characteristic. They made others feel powerful. (Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, 2003)
Great leaders use power to make others feel powerful.
Those who give power gain it.
Technically, no one can make you feel powerful. We can, however, create empowering environments and engage in empowering activities. Help others by helping them help themselves.
12 ways to help others feel powerful:
- Share information.
- Change your mind.
- Expect positive results.
- Train to enhance expertise.
- Ask don’t command. (unless you’re in a crisis)
- Set goals together rather than independently assigning them.
- Authorize to act and decide.
- Establish mistake-making policies before mistakes happen. Your reaction to mistakes is central to freeing others for powerful action.
- Expect people to solve their own problems, as much as possible.
- Be an external cheerleader – most have internal critics.
- Express enthusiasm for their projects.
- Stay involved in ways that aren’t meddling. Ask, “What can I do for you or how can I help?”
Bonus: Support but don’t intervene.
Warning: Avoid giving power to people who haven’t demonstrated responsibility.
How can leaders help others feel powerful?
What makes people feel dis-empowered?
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I appreciate the suggestions made to make others feel powerful. It is really true that weak leaders struggle to gain power and insecure leaders fear losing it. I would like to share with you that in the poor organizations, both kinds of people survive. Those who are on top positions do not let others to either question them or show their knowledge. Those who are in lower hierarchy do everything to gain power. Once they get power, they mis-utilize, manipulate and do not easily allow others to gain that position. While, in the successful organizations, do not have these two kinds of people. They have fast track policy where everyone gets opportunity to succeed. So, in the organizations, leaders can help others to feel powerful by creating good policy. More than policy, its practice that matters. I strongly believe that it is the leaders’ intention and motive makes people feel dis-empowered. From different perspective, organizational practices make either powerful or manipulative leaders
I particularly like point number three “ Change your mind”. It has always been a curious thought for me as to how people can be so extremely stubborn. It is human nature, I suppose, to say “this is what I think, and I cannot see the other side”. I think the best example of this is by stating, “I am democratic / republican, therefore I will only vote for my party regardless of what the person I am voting for stands for.” To me this is very dangerous.
I’d like to think that I am a person that has my own set of beliefs and opinions, but I also like being debated with in order to see if my ideals and values truly represent me. It allows me to be more open minded and creative; it allows me to see there are more than one way to look at a problem and proactively approach any given situation with the appropriate outlook towards the goal.
People feel dis-empowered when we step in and “rescue” them on every task or project they are assigned. If we are good at coaching, they will learn from the mistakes they make, grow from them and gain the power of experience.
Also, it is dis-empowering when we give an assignment that doesn’t match up well with the persons skillset. Every member of the team has different skills and weaknesses. As leaders we must put them in a position to win.
Another great post, Dan. Keep up the good work!
Dan great post. There is an old adage in psychology that those who have the power want to keep it from those who want it. This classic struggle exists today in many organizations and often is a major contributor to creation of a poisonous culture of greed and envy. Sharing the power goes a long way creating a positive and productive environment where leaders focus on the contribution and growth of all stakeholders. Thanks for sharing!
Liked 2 of your firm statements.
”Power is good, it gets things done” and ”Avoid giving power to people who haven’t demonstrated responsibility”.
It’s true that power is usually given to those who are successful at their respective level and have shown the potential to grow with an organization. However, the basic abuse comes when they are given full freedom to operate with no system based checks or higher-ups concern for their aim of bringing results at any cost. Business ethics are forgotten at times and employees feel the burnt if they are mishandled in undesired manner.
The solution lies in the inherent good systems of corporate governance and the timely, effective HR interventions.
As a executive coach, “being your word” creates cultural power and leadership qualities that most C-level executives need to work on. Employees want to follow someone who says what he or she is going to do and then does it. Whether you are a Gen Y or Baby Boomer, CEO’s today want to empower those that will do the same.
Hi Dan, i am enjoying your posts. Used some of your tips successfully recently! Here’s a suggestion: Can you post on the topic of the leader evaluating his direct reports and what context he might discuss their performance with their peers. Cheers.
Hi Dan, I like to think of power as an asset. Assets can be acquired, built and lost. They can also be given away (empowerment). Empowerment is an investment strategy in relationships which grow over time holding hands with trust. I’ve also noticed that oft times people give away power far too quickly, perhaps to others in authority who have not necessarily earned it.
Keep up the good work here!
Hey Dan, I just stumbled upon your blog after finding a post from 2010 that was AWESOME to read. This one is great as well (I’ve definitely subscribed).
I’ve been trying to learn to allow people to solve their own problems as of late. When your plate gets more and more full, it finally becomes necessary to “cut the cord” and allow others to potentially fail. After all, nobody has truly succeeded without first failing countless times.