Are we giving away our power when we show up at work? It’s a question that came to mind following a thought-provoking conversation I had with Kathy Caprino about a recent piece she had written about tapping into our power to achieve a sense of happiness and fulfilment.
Through our discussion, I began to wonder how many of us experience moments where our knowledge, experiences, and insights tell us that the ideas and plans being put forth are missing key details, but we don’t speak up for fear that others will see us – and not their plan or idea – as being problematic.
Although it might be fear that prevents us from taking action and becoming full participants instead of passive observers, the bigger issue is how in each of these moments we’re giving up our power at work.
Now for many of us, this might sound odd. After all, how much power or influence can I possibly have given my place in the organizational organogram, or how much money I have stashed away in my savings account? Surely those in positions of authority and those among the wealthy class have far more power to wield, and consequently more influence to direct what course my organization or my community might take?
The problem, though, is that it’s not a question of position or wealth. Rather, it’s about recognizing that we need to shift our perception of power from the previous and clearly unsustainable survival-of-the-fittest model, to one that’s based on viewing power in terms of each of us having the means and the ability to contribute meaningfully and to be valued.
This requires that we redefine power beyond the scarcity model of positional power and wealth to a more reflective one where the focus is more on what we bring to the collective table – of how through committing ourselves to do the work we were meant to do we can make a difference and be impactful.
Unfortunately, many of us have been beaten back and pushed to our limits doing work that seems to have little benefit beyond the narrow scope of a few months or even weeks, not to mention a lack of connection to what matters to us.
And so, we end up checking ourselves at the door, leaving behind that inner capability that exists within each of us – the collective talents, experiences and genius that so many organizations desperately need if they are to do more than survive, but thrive in the years ahead.
At the same time, though, we need to understand that by treating power as a scarce commodity that is based on external factors such as our position at work or in our community, we literally take the power out of our own hands because we designate the permission to be able to use our power on factors that are beyond our control.
Certainly, history is replete with examples of people who grew tired of the status quo and elected to use their own power – their gift of words, their inner sense of courage and integrity, even their physical or mental fatigue with the current realities around them – to take what was at first a quiet stand against what is, in favour of what could be. A stand that inevitably rallied those around them who also saw and believed in that vision of what could be, instead of accepting what they experience today.
In each case, these individuals were not people of positional power or wealth. On the contrary, they were often members of the disenfranchised and those who were viewed by their contemporaries as being unworthy of attention or focus. And yet, from our comfortable perch in the present, we tend to place most of them on pedestals, heralding them as being exceptional people who displayed a unique capacity for envisioning a better future in the face of a seemingly unyielding status quo.
While they were certainly remarkable and in their own ways unique, the fact is that their actions were not borne of exceptionalism or uniqueness. Rather, it came from that internal recognition that within each of us there is a power to affect change and to make a difference through how we live our lives and what we contribute to those collective efforts we commit ourselves to, whether it be in our workplaces or in the communities we live in.
Once they came to that understanding, they realized that it’s more a waste to not put that power to use than to worry about what we might lose by putting ourselves out there.
More than any inspirational quote of theirs, perhaps that is the most important message and key component of their legacy – that we should not choose to believe that power is something beholden to a few based on position or wealth, but that it’s a force for change and creating value that exists in each of us to use for the benefit of the greater good.
Of course, in uncertain and challenging times, it’s easy to understand why so many of us long for courageous leaders who can help lead the way or at least shine a light on how we can get through the fog and back onto more firmer ground.
While there is certainly a need for courageous leadership, we should be careful not to confuse courage for bravado or the sheer force of will. Rather, courage arises from a clear sense of purpose grounded with the integrity to commit to realizing it in concordance with one’s values.
In this light, we all have the capacity and opportunity to exhibit courageous leadership in the decisions and choices we make every day, of how we choose to show up to lead those under our care and of what we contribute of our talents, creativity, and insights towards a common goal.
Granted, many workplaces do not empower their employees to use their genius, creativity, and insights in order to help their organizations achieve their shared purpose. However, as technology continues to lower the competitive threshold, there can be no denying the reality that the key differentiator in the years ahead will be how much an organization’s leadership is capable of facilitating and empowering their employees to bring their full selves to work.
The only question that remains is how willing will we be to accept our ownership of our own power and of committing like those trailblazers we all admire to using that power within us to contribute meaningfully to a purpose that’s greater than ourselves.