My mission is to inspire and equip leaders to use power well. There are many types of power but any type of power used well results in more and greater possibilities for more people.
Here are three core affirmations that help leaders use power well and become power givers.
You don’t have to be in a position of leadership to make these affirmations part of your life. But if you do put these into practice you will likely find yourself placed into a leadership position eventually whether you want it or not
An Obvious Choice. Right?
If you had the choice of either sending a manager to a day long training on the Situational Leadership model or increasing their level of self awareness and ability to identify their own strengths and weaknesses by 20% which would you choose?
You can give a positional leader training in all the behavioral methods and leadership models available but if they don’t know themselves they will struggle to know, connect with, and lead their teams.
A Quick Story (to skip the story go to the next bold heading)
Jason was a pretty solid guy. 6’2” maybe 220 lbs. the police department interview room felt smaller than normal with him in it. Not just because of his physical size. He took up a lot of room in every way. When I met him he had already been convicted of multiple domestic violence related charges against multiple women.
As we talked about whether or not he would be a good fit for the intervention program I was working with at the time he expressed genuine frustration and confusion about why he continued initiate aggressive and sometimes violent confrontations with his girlfriends.
I walked him through some of the common risk factors for DV and briefly discussed the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (I’ve written about ACEs here). As I was going through that material I noticed his eyes begin to well up. After a moment of silence, he told me his story.
Jason’s father maintained iron control over everything the family did. He had to know at all times where they were, what they were doing, and who they were with. It got to the point that his father would lock him, his mother, and his younger sister in the house when he left for work in the morning.
How You Experience Power Impacts How You Use Power
Most of us don’t experience the kind of abusive power and control that Jason experienced. However, it’s a mistake to think that our past experience with power doesn’t impact how we understand and use power in the present. Our mindset around relational dynamics, social hierarchies, and the function of power and leadership is ingrained in our neural pathways during early childhood and throughout adolescence. The brain develops in what neuroscientists call a “use dependent” way. I’ve written more about the neurological impacts of our past here.
You don’t have to know anything about neuroscience to know intuitively and by experience that your past exerts enormous influence on your life in good ways, bad ways, and neutral ways. How you use power is guided by your mindset and beliefs about power. Your mindset about power-and most other things-is formed during your childhood and early adolescence. To sustainably change or build upon the way you use power in positional leadership, you must go back in time to at least some extent and explore the environment of your formative years.
Powerful leaders have a deep sense of where they came from. They have developed the skills to objectively self reflect. They don’t just know what they want they’ve spent time learning why they want it.
After more than a decade in senior leadership in the faith world, the nonprofit world, and the corporate world I’ve given up on trying to change people’s behavior. That almost always ends in some kind of coercion. I’m much more interested in inspiring people to explore their internal world and become the person and leader they want to be. And that starts with understanding the environment that created their current mindset.
If companies really want to develop powerful leaders they have to focus more on incentivizing and guiding self exploration. When you take an insecure leader and help them zoom out to see themselves as part of a bigger story, you actually empower them to find their place, either in building on a positive legacy or finding peace with and being catalyzed by a challenging background.
Leaders who use power well know themselves. And the first layer of identity is found in the past. Next time I’ll cover two other important areas of exploration: pain and potential.
how do companies incentivize self exploration and intentional self development? That’s another thread I’d like to pull on soon. Share your ideas in the comments. I’d love to hear them.
Companies struggle with employee engagement, retention, culture, and ultimately consistent customer experience because the majority of positional leaders don’t know how or are unable to use their power well.
A Quick Story of Power Abused (to skip the story go to the next bold heading)
I sat in the interview room of a police department several years ago talking to Bob. Bob had been arrested on the charge of domestic violence.
“So Bob,” I asked. “Why were you arrested?”
“I don’t know,” he replied without even looking up.
“You must have some idea,” I said.
“Cause my crazy ex called the police,” he grumbled.
“Okay, and why did she call the police, Bob,” I asked.
“I don’t know.” He repeated.
I decided to try a little differently.
“Did y’all have an argument?”
“Not really. I mean we had been arguing on Facebook some but she just came to drop off my kids and called the police on me.”
“So let me get the picture,” I said shaking my head and looking down at the police report in my hand. “She pulled up in the driveway with the kids, got out of the car…”
“No,” he cut me off. “She didn’t get out of the car. She just called the police.”
“Just like that?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Were you outside,” I asked. “Maybe walking towards the vehicle?”
“Yeah, I think I jogged toward the driveway when she pulled in.”
“Were you saying anything, maybe yelling angrily?” I asked.
“Um...yeah,” he shrugged. “Probably.”
“Calling her names?”
“Did you get to the vehicle and maybe tap on the window?” I tapped on the table in between us with my pen.
“Did you tap or bang?”
“Well...I mean it cracked a little but it wasn’t that hard.”
“Okay,” I nodded. “Bob I feel like we’re getting somewhere but still feel like we’re missing something.” I looked up and gave him a chance to come clean. He just shrugged. “Did you, by any chance, have something in your hand,” I asked. He thought for a second.
“Matter of fact I did,” he nodded sheepishly. “A knife.”
In fact, the police report stated that he had run toward the vehicle cursing, and screaming waving a three foot medieval sword.
Empower > Overpower
Bob has something in common with an unsettlingly large number of positional leaders. Not only do they try to overpower and control others, when the poop hits the fan they use selective memory and self-deceiving reframing to completely miss the actual problem and shift the blame. After all “it’s so hard to find people willing to work these days.”
An equally large number of positional leaders are trapped in corporate incentive systems that practically force unhealthy power dynamics and manipulative strategies to meet arbitrary metrics. Not to mention, many large companies and corporations have dual identities-a PR identity based on a noble mission statement (and sometimes even genuinely on their origin story and ideals) and a second identity based on the bottom line. Leaders are asked to pay lip service to the mission statement with its empowering, altruistic language while still meeting performance benchmarks that may arguably be unachievable without using less than altruistic methods. This leaves those leaders frustrated and angry and unable to empower their teams.
At the risk of sounding sensational, there really is a dearth of truly powerful leadership. The kind of leadership that results in loyal cohesive teams, real time employee development, and an internal integrity that inspires collaboration. This empowering leadership doesn’t just impact the internal culture. Customers, strategic partners, and stakeholders experience long term benefits in the form of stability, more consistent quality, and the priceless feeling of trust.
Leaders Who Use Power Well
If the majority, or even half, of the leaders in your organization don’t know how to use their positional power to invest in their teams and build positive internal culture what does that cost?
Most companies recognize the cost to some degree and invest in leadership training of some kind. However, few start where truly excellent leadership springs from: the identity of the leader.
It is from the powerful leader’s identity that they form a healthy sustainable mindset, and develop empowering relational patterns.
I’ll tackle that process in a future article. For now let me end by getting some feedback.
I have recently begun compiling some data around how people feel about their experience with their managers.
I’ve collected a considerable number of responses already. Throw your answers in the comments. Or take a stab at what you think the average percentage of managers respondents so far have said were empowering and personally cared.