In 5 words or fewer, what does "power" mean to you?
I define power (and seek to exercise it) differently in three specific contexts: Within myself, in a relationship with another person, and in a group:
1. Power within myself is the ability to Express AND regulate my emotions.
As I've noted over the years, emotions are critical to effective performance and reasoning, among many other tasks. And much of the work I've done to improve my own effectiveness, as a coach and simply as a person, has been focused on becoming more skilled both at expressing my emotions, so that my impact is aligned with my intentions, and at regulating my emotions, so that while feeling them fully I choose when and how to express them in order to meet my needs. As you might imagine, this is an imperfect process at best, and I am most definitely a work in progress.
2. Power in a relationship is being Open to each other's influence.
In 2008 I defined "interpersonal power" as "the ability to modify another person's state," and while that still seems true, it also seems insufficient. Someone with power over me may modify my "state," i.e. my external condition, without affecting my attitude, beliefs or feelings. This is how ineffective leaders so often fail: they obtain compliance without actually changing anyone's mind, and so their "power" extends only as far as their ability to monitor and police. Real interpersonal power exists only when any changes we seek to effect in another person are persistent, and that happens only when both parties are truly open to each other's influence.
3. Power in a group is feeling Free to speak my truth.
A group's power is an aspect of its overall culture, not a function of its leadership. A powerful group is one in which every member feels free to voice their perspective, even--and especially--when the leadership is ineffective. A group in which members feel prohibited from speaking up will inevitably weaken, no matter how strong its leadership. And while effective leaders will support a culture that encourages members to speak their truth, each member will ultimately have to exercise that power for themselves.
Photo by Maria Ly. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.