As you’ll see if you read a few of my blog entries I listen to a lot of music. We don’t have a television on the main floor of our house and this is intentional so we will spend more time in meaningful engagement with each other and with various form of art such as reading … and lots of music.
I was listening to John Lennon’s “Power to the People”‘ and although this is a protest ballad from the ’70’s it got me thinking about the nature of power and even more specifically, the giving and taking of power. That title phrase “power to the people” was fascinating to me. If we don’t have power can we just take it for somewhere or someone else? And do people actually have power over us or do we give them power over us?
Take the example of your employment. On the surface it appears that the person we work for has power over us. They have control over our salary, they decide when it is time for us to be promoted and they can fire us. But is that true power? We chose where we work, and each day we go to that job we reaffirm that choice. We actually have control over our own salary and our next promotion in that we can invest in our own skills to make us more valuable to our employer, and if that employer doesn’t agree, we can choose to change employers. Likewise for being fired. Unless your boss is irrational they respect good work, and we are in charge of our own efforts and results. So we have the power. This equation ebbs and flows a bit depending on the strength of the economy but the principles hold true.
Another interesting aspect of this is that as employees we often give our power to our boss, a co-worker or some other person we have a working relationship with. We do this in a number of ways … here are three:
- First, we can create a dependency whereby we don’t exercise the fullest degree of our capabilities. Instead, we think that the person we are giving power to knows
more or has greater skills than we do with respect to a given assignment or challenge. While this may be true, the way that person got those skills was through practice and experience. So what better time than now for us to gain experience. It is true we learn by doing and it is also true we learn from our mistakes. The worst thing we can do for our own skills is to not do something because we are afraid of making a mistake.
- Another way to give away our power is by blaming others about their intentions. By blaming a problem we have on someone else we are actually saying that we are powerless to deal with it. You know that type of problem: “Eldon has been telling other people that I messed up that filing last week so now nobody trusts anything that I publish anymore”. Is that truly our problem? Not really, not unless we actually messed up the filing. The problem here is that we are allowing someone else’s opinions to affect our own self-image. If we know we do good work, then that should be sufficient. We’re not in control of what Eldon says or does so why give it power by responding to it?
- This form of this giving of power is making assumptions in the absence of information. “I sent Kelly an email two days ago and she hasn’t responded. She better not be stealing my idea.” This is so common. In the absence of information we make up the worst possible scenario and then worry it to death! Here’s an idea … go ask Kelly what she thinks about the email. We might find that (a) she is really busy and hasn’t got to it yet (b) is off sick (c) really likes the idea and has passed it on to someone else giving us credit (d) insert any other reasonable and positive outcome we can think of here. And in those rare occurrences where our fears of negative outcomes are founded, we have to remind ourselves that we can’t control what anyone else thinks anyways, so why waste energy on it.
For leaders it is important to recognize when someone is attempting to give us power and respond by returning that power to them. How we do that depends on which of the three circumstances above are at play. When we sense that there is a feeling of dependency we can respond by asking questions instead of giving answers, thereby allowing that team member to work through the challenge themselves and understand that the have the power to do so. If someone is questioning our intentions in a way that affects their engagement with us, we can clearly communicate our intentions and why we believe they are correct. If there is are unwarranted assumptions at work then let’s encourage the team member to think of this as an opportunity for a meaningful
conversation with someone … they can approach such a situation with non-judgmental questions and may find a new opportunity for collaboration.
In short we can approach all of these situations with a view of “what’s possible” instead of “what’s wrong” and in doing so increase everyone’s personal power and satisfaction.
So by now you’ve discovered that this entry has nothing to do with the song “Power to the People” other than triggering some musings on my part!` But it still is a really good song. Here it is: