Power in the workplace: addressing the elephant in the room

power in the workplace

Use of power in the corporate landscape is often discussed in hushed tones, however rarely have I encountered open and frank discussion around this topic in the workplace.

In my experience women leaders have traditionally had an ambivalent attitude to power. Masculine models of power have been adopted as the benchmark for women executives for decades.

Is this changing? Yes, this is starting to shift as women (and men) explore their relationship with power and begin to own their individual styles.

The workplace itself is changing and the future work skills we require in a globally connected world with the rise of smart machines and systems, social technologies driving new forms of production and value creation, increased longevity and the physical workplace reinventing itself in a multitude of forms, are not those skills or attitudes that sustained us in the past.

Last year I attended a conference in London aptly titled “Unimaginable storms” and I paused to reflect on how far we have come in our ethical use of power.

Have we come very far – maybe in our understanding, perhaps not in our actions? The elephant in the room is use and misuse of power. The very nature of misuse of power militates against free and frank discussions. The elephant in the room may well be named shame. Shame is a paradox – by its very nature it is hidden and yet the cure for shame is to shed light on it. Are we ashamed of our actions or are we indeed ashamed that we have not named inappropriate behaviours?

Perhaps a new lens is required.

There is much talk today of compassion and innate humanness whilst authority and submission, fear of being nothing, overt put down, subtle superiority and dismissiveness are still demonstrated in many workplaces.

More elephants!

Which of course can lead to dangerous oversights and changing risk factors and risk profiles in organisations.

To tame the elephant people need to develop the capacity to build multilateral relationships. Questioning what we believe and what we want is difficult at the best of times and especially when we most need to do it. To articulate our concerns in the workplace often requires courage, perseverance and resilience, even if underlying structures and procedures purportedly support ameliorating strategies.

Meaning provides the lens – understand behaviour, rather than just observe it.

We talk about power all the time – do we really understand what it is and how to use it?

It is important to be intentional about what you are seeking as a leader. There is no single model of power that works for everyone.

What do we need to know about power?

The key to using our power wisely is to understand the impact of our actions on other people and to be aware of the appropriateness of these actions.

How can we use our power ethically?

In order to use power ethically in the business landscape it is necessary for us to develop an awareness of the concept of power and what it means to us. Also we need to understand how power impacts on our lives, both in business and personally, and to develop skills to enhance the right or ethical use of power.

And if we don’t? Then the elephant comes charging in.

What is the right use of power?

 The right use of power is achieving what you want without the use of manipulation, coercion, or other more subtle and elusive forms of power. True power lies in clarity and conviction. Finding and articulating your passion and purpose will allow you to stand in your power.

Right use of power requires you to be comfortable with your power, face your fears and act with power. No one will willingly step aside and cede their power to you. You have to step forward and take it yourself.

Ultimately we all have choice. We can choose to be powerless or we can be comfortable with our power.

If we respect ourselves and others, and take responsibility for our actions, then the right use of power will follow.

Besides, the right use of power can dramatically improve the bottom line of any business entity!

Maybe the elephant has something to teach us after all!


image credit:  via Flikr Tambako