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Who’s got the power? You do.

by Adaobi Okolue
follow me on Twitter: aokolue

Power. When we think of it, we often associate it with individuals who have the ability to exert it over others: Executive directors, presidents, board of directors, etc. We seldom believe that we—in the early-mid or even infancy stages of our careers—have the ability to turn the wheels of an organization with the same might as an executive director.

At the last Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) lunch of the year, a simple icebreaker exercise—led by Diane Tran—turned into the Wikileaks cables of our insecurities. Participants were asked to rate on a 1 to 10 scale how powerful they felt. A majority of the participants landed anywhere between a three and six. A few scattered on a powerless one or two, and only two participants landed on the mighty (or overzealous, pending your viewpoint) 10.

My first thought was: Where were the powerful young people that helped usher in change in 2008? Young people who were so anxious to lead that they would do so by any means. There was evidently something that crept into our municipal drinking water, and I believe I found out what it is: A lack of personal power.

What is personal power? Personal power is the influence over others, the source of which resides in the person instead of being vested by the position he or she holds. How do I internalize this definition, especially as it relates to leading from the middle—the overarching topic? Before you have influence over others, you must recognize and master the power that lies within you.

There are many sources of power. Many of which were named in that room:

  • Power as it relates to your job position.
  • Power as it relates to your age.
  • Power as it relates to how you feel.
  • Power as it relates to who you know.

The issue I have with these sources is that each one is based on conditions that are not within your control. Conditions that can change to your detriment: You lose your job. Someone tells you that you’re too young or too old. You’re bipolar. Your contact drums-up a PR whirlwind envious of Ms. Lohan. See the problem?

So if being in tune with your personal power is the key to influencing others—and thus leading from the middle—then how can we establish (or develop) it to win this massive power struggle?

Here are my two-cents on that, in no particular order:

  • Know what you can do, and do it well.
  • Know what you can’t dobut can manage. There are two sides of the weakness debate. One that advocates that you strengthen your weakness, and the other that tells you to manage them. I’m for the latter.
  • Be aware of what’s stirring the emotional pot. Are you a trigger-happy professional with a trail of chalk outlines of those that came within your crosshairs? Or are you the passive aggressive Minnesotan that avoids confrontation. Whatever be the case, find a happy medium.
  • Know how to assess your situation. Understanding the challenges and opportunities in any situation puts you in a position to strategically take action.
  • Stay informed. Read a book (article or blog) or two, and then find ways to talk to other people about what you read.
  • Acknowledge fear (or anxiety). Fear is a very real thing, and those that tell you that it isn’t like playing in clouds of mood-stabilizing smoke. The key is not to not acknowledge it, but to not be immobilized by it. Make sense?
  • Ask questions, enough to make progress (or breakthrough) but not land on the spam or block list.

I don’t have a doctorate in psychology like your favorite TV show self-improvement (or self-destructive, pending on your viewpoint) guru such as Dr. Phil, nor am I kin to Oprah. I have the sum of my experiences and that of others.

You’re welcome to agree or disagree. But, share your thoughts nonetheless.


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