What Does Power Mean to You?

Written by Laurie Hillis

Hi, I’m Laurie Hillis, I love what I do: the learning, the process, and above all, seeing how my clients grow as leaders.


January 29, 2024

The difference between power that is given and that is earned


What does that word mean to you? What feelings does it elicit? What experiences have you had with it? Where do you have it and where do you not?

How we experience “power” is dependent on so many things, including our upbringing, as well as on the role(s) we play, and we all play different roles every day. You might wake up in the morning and have a high level of “power” in your house because you’re the adult, the parent, the ruler of your roost. Then you go to work and you aren’t at the top of the ladder; maybe you’re in “middle management” and you have people to answer to, as well as people that answer to you. Then you go home at night and log onto your virtual book club or join your friends to watch “the game,” with no apparent power differential at all.

Positional vs. Personal Power

Throughout our days, we move through different roles and each one has multiple relationships and associated positional power (defined by your role and relation to others). But what about personal power – the type you earn as a result of how you interact with others?

I’ve been reading the works of Julie Diamond, on the topic of Power in Leadership, and will be soon stepping into certification of her teachings, because I feel so strongly that it is a dynamic that is incredibly useful in my coaching work. Diamond purports that, “People want to use their power more effectively … but when we use power poorly, those around us suffer and become disengaged. As a result, we lose their valuable contributions.”

I see instances of this all the time. People (often, leaders) who want to use their positional power for good, end up negatively affecting the people around them because of how they exercise it. The person in the higher role doesn’t succeed in earning the respect of those in their charge because they rely too heavily on their positional power and not enough on developing their personal power.

Corruption and Abuses of Power

Worse, what I hear from clients when they refer to higher-up leaders they know, is that corruption and abuses of power are common. When we think of corruption and abuse, our minds likely turn to examples of atrocities in history that horrify us, but corruption happens every day, everywhere. Everyday corruption “refers to non-conscious, unintended, unpremeditated acts that break or stretch social and relational bonds, and in so doing, inflict harm.” says Diamond.

That hits hard. And I wonder if any of us stop to consider if how we are behaving could be considered an abuse of power, or corruption. If you’re having trouble with this self-reflection, ask yourself if you rely on your position(s) to motivate others to behave how you want, or if you are able to influence others without motive.

If you can see how you might be abusing your power in some cases, what has led you there? Some common precursors are:

  • Over compensating for feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy
  • Fear of conflict
  • Dynamics and context; it’s all dependent on who else is “in the room” and our perceived rank differential (where do you feel in a lower rank?)
  • Traumatic experiences that have depleted our self-perceived power

There is so much to the dynamic of power. I’ll be back in the future as I dig in more. For now, ask yourself these questions:

  • What different roles do I play?
  • Where do I have positional power?
  • Am I abusing my power?
  • Where have I not earned personal power?
  • What work do I need to do?

Let’s connect:

If you want to know more about Megatrain and how we can work together, drop me a line:

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