Dictionary.com defines power as a person or thing that possesses or exercises authority or influence. To this, I’m adding to get something done. Sounds like a basic definition of business. As such, I think it’s worth exploring what kind of power is being used to get what kind of work done.
While a conversation about power is usually about how women need to get more and men need to tone it down, I’m persuaded that both genders need to understand power, how they use it and its impact on others. Neither gender can afford to be uncomfortable in the face of power. Neither gender can afford to be blinded, and victimized, by the concept of power their gender has historically inherited.
“Women’s empowerment should lead to the liberation of men from false value systems and ideologies of oppression. It should lead to a situation where each one can become a whole being regardless of gender, and use their fullest potential to construct a more humane society for all.”
— Farhan Akhtar, activist and filmmaker
We all have ample reasons to be wary of the concept of power. Our human history has been marked throughout its entirety by conflict, violence and carnage as people seek to gain power over others. In today’s world, whether it is in the domain of business or social change, collaboration, partnership and distributed leadership are essential success factors. It’s time all of us take stock of how we use power and what kind we use.
Oxaal and Baden defined four different manifestations or expressions of power. Whether you are a business owner/leader or employee, whether you are a Boomer or a GenY-er, notice what jumps to mind as you read these. It may reveal your unconscious belief that’s impacting your effectiveness.
Four types of power
- Power over (a thing or person)
- Power to (effect some change or to make and carry out a decision)
- Power with (shared power, acquired as a result of partnership with a collective goal)
- Power within (self-confidence and self-awareness).
I would be remiss if I didn’t say a bit more about women and power. So very many women, the world over, have little ‘power within’ because someone else has, and exercises, ‘power over’ them. Many a woman is unable to participate in ‘power with’ others, because the men who have ‘power over’ her are the ones who decide whether she cooperates with anyone, who she gets to cooperate with, and what exactly she cooperates with them on. Yes, this is changing. Yes, there’s more to go.
Women must seek to acquire ‘power over’ ourselves and our lives, ‘power to’ effect change and affect others, and in order to do so, we must gain some measure of ‘power over’ our world, our personal, social and domestic circumstances, and our environment in every sense. Until women are comfortable with their own power and not rendered uncomfortable and incapacitated by another person’s power, they will (1) remain unable to seek and use power appropriately and (2) be unable to respond effectively to it.
Both men and women need the power to use their gifts and talents; power to educate and be educated; power to change or remain the same; power to say no or yes; power to choose life paths, life partners, foods, religions, careers, friends and neighbors; power to make our own decisions, power to spend the money we earn (or not) and on and on.
Power is a reality of human existence. It is not power that is the issue, it is the kind we use and the uses to which we put power. My challenge to you, business leader: Share this with your team and ask, “What kind of power is most effective, when and how should we use it to have our business be successful?” Oh, and leader, please listen generously to what they say.