Our relationship to power
Years ago, I was guided through a visualization exercise intended to help me identify a core need or asset I had hidden within me—something I would need for the journey I was on. At the time, I tended to be skeptical of these types of practices, allergic to anything that might be considered “woo-woo,” but I played along. I allowed my imagination to envision myself walking slowly on a path through the woods, coming upon a beautifully designed box and opening it to find that something that I needed.
Except that my something was something I didn’t want. It was a scepter, stunningly beautiful, gold and bejeweled. I knew instantly that it represented power. And I recoiled, both in that imaginary forest and in my very real chair.
We have a complicated relationship to power. Our society equates power with dominance, especially through authority, resources or control. The people we think of as “powerful” are often not responsible stewards of whatever influence they have, and as in the case of last week’s tyrants, they may use it to inflict harm.
So it makes sense that the rest of us struggle on three levels:
Recognizing the power that we possess
Use that power to achieve our goals or effect change
Being seen by others as powerful
Every day I work with leaders you would consider powerful. But they do not see themselves that way. Though many are senior executives with significant authority and salaries to match, they see themselves as powerless against even greater forces—whether the leaders above them or the systems they operate within—and thus do not step into their power.
Next week I’ll share more about what I’ve done with that scepter I found in that figment forest, with thoughts on how to step into our power while striking the balance that ensures we don’t turn into a tyrant ourselves.
For now, let’s consider our relationship to power with the questions below.
Join me in reflecting on the following. If you have a journal, capture your thoughts there. It may be interesting to see how your relationship to power changes over time.
Who do I consider to be powerful in my organization or community?
What gives them their power? Is it related to their role, seniority or degree of authority? Or does it come from somewhere else?
How do they use their power? Do they step into their power? Do they hoard it? Do they share their power? Do they deny it?
What about them do you admire? What do you disdain?
Do I consider myself to be powerful?
If yes, where does my power come from? Is it related to my role, seniority or degree of authority? Or does it come from somewhere else?
If no, do I want power? What emotions arise around this question? (Common answers include shame, fear, anger, resignation…) What do these feelings tell me about my relationship to power?
Is there a situation in my life/work that is inviting me to step into my power right now? A challenge I’m facing or a change I’m leading? What is one way I can show up powerfully this week?