Way back in the 1980s, I spent a lot of time audiotaping meetings of people.

I was researching power for my doctoral studies and listened to hours and hours of conversation between coworkers in various settings: meetings, informal discussions, social events.

And during this time, I discovered something that startled me. At first, it made no sense.

Most of the time, the person in the group with the highest rank, spoke the least.

It startled me because it flew in the face of what we think about when we think about power: big, bold, brash. And even today, it flies in the face of current research on psychological safety and inclusion: the most dominant members of a group speak more, speak first, and speak loudest.

As I listened, I found an even more startling fact: those with the highest rank didn’t just speak less, they also interrupted the least.

Each recording showed the same thing … those who had the highest rank, spoke least. They interrupted others less. And in many cases, they didn’t just speak less, they also spoke more quietly and more slowly But there was a twist.

These people weren’t just the ones with the highest positional power, but also those who had high positional power and ranked highly in other people’s estimation.

Their rank was a combination of their role and the power that was attributed to them by others.

They were the ones who others were most likely to follow, emulate, and appreciate.

This points to something that I keep finding in my research: it’s the striving forpower,not necessarily the having of power, that drives people to use the negative behaviors we come to associate with a poor use of power.

The lesson here is that to gain influence, to be seen as powerful in the eyes of others, you may be better off with a less is more approach: less big, less bold, and less brash.

The ‘not-doing’ of power just might give you more: more rank, more credibility, and more influence.

Which begs the question, “What is the not-doing of power?”

I see it played out in several ways:

1. The more you use it, the more you lose it.

Just because you have power, doesn’t mean you should use it. Just because you can force people to do what you want doesn’t mean you should. Your authority alone is not leadership.

In fact, the more you rely on authority alone, the fewer people admire you or deem your authority legitimate. Compliance is not commitment—people need a compelling, genuine reason to follow you.

If you take control, speak loudly, take charge, but don’t take time to gain the trust of others, they’ll perceive you as autocratic and you’ll lose their respect as a result.

Your behavior, not your title, gives you legitimacy, and behavior needs time to make an impact. There is no shortcut to influence. It happens through contact, relationship, and trust-building.

2. Quiet is compelling.

The idea of a modest, quiet leader may seem counterintuitive, but there’s substance there. Jim Collins showed in his well-known book that the most successful companies are those led by modest leaders .

My colleague, Megumi Miki, has written about the power of quiet leadership. Being quiet, she contends, is not associated with power or leadership, but it should.

We know the adage: actions speak louder than words. But we are a noisy species. And power is often associated with noisiness: using our voice in loud, directive, assertive, and extraverted ways.

But as others have found, and as my research discovered, those with the highest rank were in fact quieter. They spoke less, and they often spoke in more quiet tones. At the time, I thought it was because they didn’t need to speak up. When they opened their mouth, people listened.

But quiet is also confidence in what they were saying. They chose their words carefully. They believed in what they were saying, so they didn’t have to use volume to overcome their inner expectation that it would be rebutted or ignored.

3. Leave it alone.

When you have rank of any kind, you become a target of other people’s projections, both good and bad. Sometimes we’re loved and admired, but just as likely we’re a target for attacks, hatred and criticism. These days it’s all too easy to track what people think of us, to read the reviews and critiques and to get drawn into responding.

But we need to let it go. Because the more we get embroiled in what others’ think or say, the more we fight back, correct perceived wrongs, or go after our detractors, the more we lose power. Fighting back doesn’t give us power; it saps our strength. It makes us look easily wounded, petty, and dependent on others for our sense of self-esteem. We’re actually feeding the critics by countering them.

But more importantly, at the end of the day, we can never succeed by trying to fight our detractors. Because no matter what, as a symbol of power, as a famous person, or as someone others see as having rank, we’ll have haters. That’s the reality of power and of leadership.

While it’s easy to think of power as actions we need to take, speaking up and out, and sounding our mighty yawp, the truth is that those behaviors often have more to do with striving for power than truly owning power.

All to say that even though it might seem counterintuitive, sometimes less is more when it comes to power.