When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.
As an executive coach, I’ve had plenty of experience helping clients deal with ineffective leadership in the form of an insecure boss. This isn’t just a boss problem, but something we’ve all encountered—teachers who don’t like to be challenged; doctors who feel threatened by patients who ask about different treatment options.
In my book, Power: A User’s Guide, I tell the tale of two examinations conducted by separate examiners from my graduate school days:
The first examiner, a towering intellect and head of the department, was quite intimidating. At one point during the oral exam, I froze and blanked on a technical term. I admitted I forgot the word but knew what he was asking and did my best to answer.
To my surprise, the examiner praised me for knowing the theory so well that I could explain it without jargon and gave me the highest grade possible.
The next exam was the complete opposite experience. My examiner was new to her role and only cared whether or not I knew the correct terms and definitions. She clearly didn’t feel confident as an examiner, and thus didn’t have the latitude to allow for discussion that might fall outside the scope of her knowledge.
The second examiner’s approach is a textbook example of the poor use of power: low confidence or self-esteem in a high position of power.
The most effective leaders are those who are guided by a sense of Personal Power — a power which is unrelated to outer status, rank or position.
When leaders lack this inner stability, they are more likely to use power ineffectively through aggression, intimidation or passivity.
In fact, researchers Melissa Williams, Deborah Gruenfeld, and Lucia Guillory have found that leaders lacking in Personal Power might be more likely to engage in sexually harassing behavior. Their research found that men who felt inadequate, once promoted, were more likely to believe that their subordinates were sexually interested in them. They were also more likely to be sexually aggressive compared to men who did not feel inadequate.
Personal power not only imbues you with greater confidence and self-efficacy, it is also the inner resource that we can control and which no one can take from us. We are in possession of our Personal Power no matter where we are, or what challenges we face.
So, how do we develop personal power?
Some people are born with more self-confidence than others, but there are many ways we can grow our sense of personal power, now, even if we aren’t naturally confident.
Diamond Leadership’s work with leaders centers on 5 central ways of developing personal power:
5 Ways to Cultivate Personal Power Today
1. Tell the Right Story
Personal power is not just what we can do, but how we feel. And how we feel is connected to our inner dialogue, our self-talk.
Do we narrate our experience in a way that sets us up to succeed? Or does our self-talk create anxiety, fear, or self-doubt?
How we frame what happens to us has a profound and decisive influence on everything from our health and well-being to our ability to bounce back from defeat. Become aware of the stories you tell yourself about yourself, about what’s happening, and about the challenges you face. And make sure the stories you tell are ones that help you become more effective at what you do.
You can tell yourself a story that generates anxiety, self-doubt, or blame: “I’ll never make it.”, “He’s out to get me.”; or you can tell a story that’s characterized by positivity, curiosity, and a willingness to learn: “This might be hard but think of all the things I’ll learn by going through it.”
2. Invest in Self-Awareness
Your personal power stems from, first and foremost, personality traits and characteristics: those qualities you’re born with, such as being easy going or driven; reserved or sociable; demure or confident; cautious or bold.
Any trait can be a great leadership trait. It completely depends on how you use it!
And that requires an awareness of your qualities, the confidence to embrace them, and the willingness to learn how to use them to your advantage.
Do you use your personality traits in the right way, for the right reason, at the right time and place?
If you don’t take the time to get to know yourself and embrace your unique characteristics, then you won’t be able to use your personality with discernment.
Your traits can derail your efforts when they are not under your control. If you don’t know how to use your assertiveness well, then you can be bossy and domineering. Likewise, if your reserved nature isn’t something you recognize and embrace, then you might not know how to use it to your advantage and risk coming across to others as cool, undriven and aloof.
3. Invest in Emotional Health
Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, contends that managing your emotions is prerequisite for successfully enacting the laws of power.
Before you can master power, you have to master your own emotional world. You lose power when you let your emotions get the best of you. You allow outer situations to direct your behavior and overreact.
Being able to respond—and not just react—comes from knowledge of and comfort with your emotions. Mastering your emotions requires being open to your feelings—not judging them—and reflecting upon them in order to discover what they can teach you about yourself.
4. Set Your Own Benchmarks for Success
There’s a fine line between needing love and needing approval. We all need to feel loved, but when we start to care so much about what others think or become afraid of losing their approval, we compromise our power.
When our sense of self-esteem depends on others’ ratification, we put our self-esteem, and thus our sense of Personal Power, in someone else’s hands.
What someone else thinks about you reflects their values, not yours. A key to growing Personal Power is to wean yourself off the praise (and criticism) of others.
Be open to feedback, but don’t forget to set your own benchmarks for success as well as failure. Work towards the goals, praise and outcomes that you define yourself and that best serve you in accomplishing your goals.
5. Strive, But Also Be Happy Where You Are
One of the biggest mistakes I see new leaders make is to try to use their authority before they have earned it.
These leaders chafe against the limits imposed by being new to their role. In other words, they don’t embrace their momentary experience of low rank. But we all have low-rank moments.
Learning something new, needing help, or not knowing what to do are all low-rank experiences … and they are a necessary facet in the equation of personal development.
You have to embrace the hard things as they’re happening — the low moments, challenges, crises of confidence — because they also bring unparalleled rewards. We source much of our personal power from the most difficult times in life. And if we turn against these experiences of low rank, we lose that precious superpower.
Not only do we miss a crucial source of Personal Power, but nothing makes us more vulnerable than the inability to be vulnerable.
If you cannot lose an argument, walk away from a disagreement, admit defeat, or apologize for a mistake, then you’ve placed your feelings of worth in the hands of someone else and are open to manipulation.
Discover and embrace the power in a low-rank experience. It could be the source of some of your greatest strengths and powers.
No doubt the list could go on. What would you add? How have you grown your personal power?
If you enjoyed this post and would like more insights on leadership and the dynamics of power in the workplace, subscribe to my monthly newsletter.
Also be sure to attend one of my upcoming webinars on Power Intelligence® to learn more ways in which leaders can use their power effectively and ethically. Or join me at an upcoming Power Intelligence® Leadership Training Seminar for a deeper dive into how to harness personal and positional power to create conscious and sustainable leadership.
Learn more about how Personal Power can make you a more effective leader in my book, Power: A User’s Guide.