“Power is more than an objective assignment of position, or the possession of status … Power is a state of mind.”
• Julie Diamond
“I’m tired of all the power plays,” I hear myself say.
It’s an odd sentiment for a systems coach to express. By definition, my work is all about revealing the relationship dynamics of leaders, teams and organizations to themselves. This is for the sole purpose of becoming more powerful, together, as it is powerful relationships that lead change.
Internal politics and the unconscious use of power can hinder change if they do not serve the higher purpose of the organization. As coaches, we have the privilege of playing the role of observer and revealer. We support leaders and teams in leading creatively together, rather than sabotaging each other.
From time to time, we get caught in the crossfire between different factions who are vying for power.
Even as a trained coach, there have been times when I have felt powerless amidst the crossfire. It’s been a challenge to focus. To my chagrin, I have even become reactive at times, rather than leading from a creative mindset.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
• Viktor E. Frankl
I realize that I have an ambiguous relationship with power, both hating and desiring it. I especially hate power that is used insidiously. Learning that others who I liked, believed in and trusted are playing power games behind the scenes can leave me feeling blindsided and foolish.
In studying Julie Diamond’s A User’s Guide to Power, I discover that allowing my feelings of foolishness to run amok is my first error. To avoid leading from a reactive mindset of indignation, we must embrace vulnerability and remain in a creative mindset. Being aware of feelings is paramount to using our own power responsibly.
My second error is in underestimating the power of myself and my team, while overestimating others’ power. We do not have to place our own feelings of worth in the hands of others.
At times, our team has been power blind – unable to recognize our own value. Although as coaches we have little positional and historical power in the organizations we serve, we do have sociopolitical and informal power through our roles as expert consultants.
We also have power in how we show up and present ourselves in general. To some, that power is intimidating, frightening, and threatening.
“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.”
• Joss Wheden
Once we remove the power blindfold, we see more clearly how others perceive us. It can be a surprise – how powerful we look. Diamond advises us to remain aware of our feelings and our own self-perceived power as we continue to work alongside others.
The more we step into our personal power, the less likely we are to react defensively, protectively, or aggressively towards any power players, and the more likely we are to respond creatively and de-escalate the conflict.
Take off the power blindfold and recognizing your own worth. Drawing on our power as change leaders allows us to act with compassion, curiosity and courage towards those who may feel threatened by us as a symbol of change.
Power is indeed a state of mind.
Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.