Owning Your Power: Awareness and Authority (Part 1)

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”

Cheerful team of business people in the meeting room with the bo-Shakespeare, Henry IV, 1597

 As general manager at a tech company, Mary (renamed for anonymity) was in line for a big promotion. But one thing stood in her way: an influential higher-up—let’s call him Bob—was not too fond of her. Or so she thought.

In reality, Bob found Mary talented, sharp, and invaluable. But he agreed that there was one thing standing in her way: herself. Mary simply wasn’t asserting her authority—in meetings, with her direct reports…to anyone. In effect, she needed to recognize and own her power.

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We are all well aware that power changes things. That’s not a premise dipped in ego; it’s a reality that escapes many ascendant executives. Power changes how you’re thought of, how you’re treated, and, crucially, what’s expected from you.

We are probably less aware of the more subtle changes that power brings. As your role and responsibilities grow within an organization, the mantle of power can settle gently, almost imperceptibly. You may not recognize it, but the people around you certainly will.

In order to manipulate this change as one for the better, you have to learn how to own your power and shift the dynamic in your favor. This means recognizing and internalizing your power, as well as changing your behavior to reflect your new responsibility. First you need to understand how it happens, notice when it’s happening, and take action to be a better leader.

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How does power come to settle on your shoulders? It can happen gradually. A need emerges, and you take it on. You learn a skill, command a project, and claim even more responsibility. Over time, your reputation, your skill set, and your power all grow. Power can also manifest in a sudden or unexpected way–perhaps something changes, resulting in a promotion. Maybe your skills and contacts become more valuable due to a shift in market circumstances.

It’s also important to realize that while a corner office and generous pay raise are clear enough signs, newly attained power is rarely so obvious. One model of power famously posited by French and Raven states that power derives from six sources: 1) the threat of punishment, 2) the promise of a payoff, 3) titles and positions, 4) personal charisma, 5) extensive knowledge, and 6) persuasive facts and arguments.

Because we don’t usually examine our performance from an outside perspective, it’s often extremely difficult for people to recognize their own power. Despite a new title or salary (extrinsic changes), people often feel as though they haven’t changed intrinsically

Fostering a sense of self-awareness is crucial to your success as a leader, as is learning to read those around you for signs of a paradigm shift. Recognizing your power is the first step to owning it, and the way you handle that authority once you’ve identified it will make all the difference in your performance. Our next blog will delve further into the notion of how to own your power in the workplace by creating an effective dynamic with your colleagues.