Opt in or out of the path to power?

When it comes to power, most experts will agree there are clear and defined paths to power. There are strategic moves and games you need to play in order to gain and hold power. However, the playing field is not level.  Different people are more or less comfortable in taking up power depends a lot on their privilege. Research as found that often marginalised people opt out of taking power. People with economically disadvantaged backgrounds, are more likely to not want to rise to power, especially by doing so in a Machiavellian way. The Machiavellian leader is someone who views and manipulates others for his own purposes. They will attempt to achieve their personal goals by whatever means necessary.  According to a study by Peter Belmi and Kristin Laurin, Who wants to get to the top? Class and lay theories about power,

“…individuals with relatively low social class as more strongly focused on others and less focused on themselves, we hypothesized that these individuals would show less interest in seeking positions of power than their high-class counterparts, because they feel less comfortable engaging in political behavior. We tested these ideas in 7 studies. Our findings indicated that, even though individuals with relatively low social class see political behavior as necessary and effective for acquiring positions of power, they are reluctant to do it; as a result, they have a weaker tendency to seek positions of power compared to individuals with relatively high social class.”

A current example in America, of the 25 highest value companies, there are only 4 Black chief executives running Fortune 500 companies, and no women.  Does inequality get perpetuated because the ones drawn to power are the ones who are often less concerned about others?  I certainly feel like the majority of leaders we see today are thinking of their own personal gains over the gains of others. However, it is more complicated than that, thank goodness.

Although the principles of gaining power allow narcissists, psychopaths and Machiavellians to rise, those traits are also associated with an eventual loss of power. One of the keys to understanding and dealing with the struggle for power is to lose your misguided faith that this is a just world. The good guys don’t always win and the bad guys sometimes do. Maybe often do. But if they’ve made too many enemies on the way up, even if they bring in their staunch loyalists, people will find creative ways to even the score.  The good news is that the core principles of influence – credibility (expertise and trustworthiness) and likability – are important factors that allow a person to hold on to power over time. The most effective leaders realise that power can corrupt even the most well-intentioned person and that you don’t get good feedback when you’re in a position of power.  Effective leadership in a high level position requires the humility to seek out good data. You never know as much as you think you do – and most of the stuff people tell you is filtered. They will flatter you and, even though you may realise it, you’re still human and still subject to believing your good press. So it helps to have people who can give accurate feedback, unvarnished data and reasoned opinion.  You will do well to remember that if you are in power, you are aware of what power does to most people. In other words, while power carries some negative connotations, power is a tool that can be used for good. Don’t blame the tool for how some people used it.

In 7 Rules of Power, by Jeffrey Pfeffer, is a book rooted firmly in social science research and provides a manual for increasing your ability to get things done, including increasing the positive effects of your job performance.

The 7 rules are:
1)     Get out of your own way.
2)     Break the rules.
3)     Show up in powerful fashion.
4)     Create a powerful brand.
5)     Network relentlessly.
6)     Use your power.
7)     Understand that once you have acquired power, what you did to get it will be forgiven, forgotten, or both.

That list is very similar to our programme. Perhaps, ironically, much of the time spent for participants is around step 1- get out of your own way.


Changing how you feel about power is the key

Yes feelings. According to Standford’s executive education course, Discover the Paths to Power,

“There is a direct correlation between the understanding and mastery of power dynamics and personal and professional satisfaction and wellbeing.”

  • Build and develop your power skills — and know when and how to use them,
  • Create, grow, and use social networks,
  • Develop your personal brand and reputation to elevate success,
  • Think about career moves in progression to control career direction.

I was surprised and excited to read the word wellbeing as part of their description around paths to power. I agree 110%. With power comes great responsibility, yes, but also a greater sense of wellbeing when used for good.


Why we fear our own power

And how we can embrace rather than reject our strength. It is wise to remember that inadequacy makes us feel alone and before you reject power outright, think about using power for good.

Marianne Williamson wrote,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

When you do embrace and pursue your sense of power in the world, it is critical that you seek out people with whom you can connect—mentors, peers, friends, family, spiritual advisors, or therapists.  It will serve you well to remember that embracing your power is embracing your sense of purpose.

Our most powerful relationship is with ourselves, and that can be a powerful connector to the world. And as we see time and time again, when we embrace our purpose, the best relationships emerge with people who support or share in your mission and your struggle. That kind of community, one who shares in your power, champions your worth and work, can do great things.

It is a beautiful thing to know your worth and step into your own power.