Peeking Behind the Power Curtain



I confess… I’m into power. And I want other women to feel the same way.


I’m tired of the bad rap it gets everywhere. Those with power are typically portrayed as self-serving egomaniacs. Women, men, and the media have gotten tripped up by incorrectly defining power by how self-absorbed people use it, and decide they don’t want or need to have power—all without understanding what it really is.


In workshop after workshop and talk after talk, women tell me they want nothing to do with power. They don’t use the word to describe themselves. They believe they can climb the career ladder without it. They don’t want to be warped by having it.


In my experience, power, like love, is one of those words we rarely utter in the workplace. Looking back, no one ever taught me about power—what it was or how to use it effectively. As with many things that exist in the shadows, erroneous assumptions loom large, so it’s time to start putting them to rest.



1) I don’t want to have power because it will corrupt me. Despite common stereotypes, it’s not true that power corrupts absolutely. That happens only if you let it happen. Power is simply the capacity to deploy resources to generate change and achieve results. It’s only in how one chooses to use it that it becomes good or bad.


Research does show that those who believe they have power view themselves as above the law and adopt an all-wise mentality. This isn’t a rule; it’s just adopted behaviors over which one has control. Be bold and self-aware, and reject that kingly position.


2) I’m not a boss, so I don’t have any power. Au contraire! Just as one can be a leader even if one isn’t the leader, the same holds true for power. Power is readily available from a multitude of sources provided you have the courage and foresight to take it and use it. You don’t have to sit in the corner office job or even supervise others to have power. It can flow from your expertise, connections, access to information and strong interpersonal communication skills.


Personal power is a state of mind in which you confidently believe in your own strength and competence. “Powerful leaders rely more on personal power than job title, or credentials, to mobilize their resources, inspire creativity, and instill confidence among subordinates,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard professor and author.


3) Power scares me. Be scared instead of being powerless. If you don’t step into your power and use it on your own behalf, how will you ever get that pay increase? Negotiate a contract? Create a positive difference? Make your voice heard? Just do it.


“Power is required if one wants to get anything done in any large organization,” says Stanford University professor Jeffery Pfeffer. “Unfortunately, power doesn’t just fall into one’s lap: one will have to go after it and learn how to use it.” Go for it.


4) Nice girls don’t play with power. Oh yes, they do. ‘Nuff said.


What have you got to say about power?


In-post photo credit: Colette Baron Reid