That Dirty Little Word

Power. It has a bad rap.

This Thursday I made a real effort to attend a networking event. I’d worked a full day in California, got off a plane, and fought traffic to hear colleagues facilitate a discussion on Women and Power. Truthfully, I was intrigued.

The Happy Hour of Power promised this:

Enjoy a drink, meet other women leaders, and learn about the critical advantages of personal power, and the role of curiosity, grit, and love in your leadership. You’ll discover ways to increase your impact, and build your immunity to negative power politics and dynamics.

About 20 women showed up curious. I made small talk with a couple  from Portland Community College and hobnobbed with execs from Nike and Intel. But, much to my delight, this was not your typical, superficial meet-and-greet. Wine in hand and appetizers on our plate, we were invited to take a seat and join in on some pretty hefty thought.

After brief descriptions on the externally-provided positional power that defines our status vs. the intrinsic personal power that we own by way of our character, wisdom, and confidence, Lesli challenged the group to, “Turn to the person beside you and share a power challenge you have.” Ok, then. Let’s get real.

The women I spoke to shared how they avoid using their power. That power can make them uncomfortable. I admitted that I sometimes doubt the power of relationships and don’t leverage and trust my more subtle and collaborative approach. We all agreed that there are so many examples of the abuse of power that it’s challenging to own the power we’ve earned.

Guess what? When Julie tried to herd the cats home after 5 minutes of sharing, we would not shut up. We had a lot to say. Folks, we are dying to talk about this.

walkerpower

I’ve facilitated plenty of groups over the years, and what a fantastic problem: the need to contain a group’s enthusiasm and engagement. Julie and Lesli finally managed to rein us in. They introduced language to reframe our obstacles as Worthy Opponents. And then, because we trusted the intentions and wisdom of the leaders (because of their personal power?), we agreed to close our eyes and allowed Lesli to lead us through a visualization. “This might be weird,” she warned.

It wasn’t weird; it was expansive. She helped us name a Worthy Appointment. She moved us from our analytical and overactive minds and encouraged us to find a gesture or movement in our bodies. Why? To represent the word or feeling that represented the Someone that really irritated us or threatened our personal power.

It was hard. I got stuck between “belittling” and “boxed in.” I couldn’t decide if I should go with a gesture of pointing and blaming or pushing down. I tried flicking my wrist in imitation of whipping, but that felt too dramatic. Not all bullies are so outwardly aggressive.

Two women, ironically, named the word “Inauthentic” as the Someone they were up against. “Passive Aggressive” was called out. So was “Abusive” and “Shut Down.” It has been a long time since I’ve sat in a room with strangers who were willing to be vulnerable and honest with each other – in the span of 30 minutes. What does that suggest?

I like the article Lesli has written here on Personal Power. I forwarded it to several of the women I’m coaching today and anticipate some meaty discussions in the next month.

What are your Power Challenges? What does Power mean to you?

(Thanks to Julie and Lesli for creating space for this discussion. More on p2leaderlab here)

 

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