Power. As I discussed in my Working Knowledge article (archived here), power is one of the prime motivators for many people on the planet. Yet it comes in many flavors, and the most popular form isn’t necessarily the most effective.

This month:

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New York Times, Sunday September 17, 2006
“Taking a Rain Check on a Promotion”

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Article: The Most Powerful Kind of Power

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Wouldn’t it be great if you had power, so people would do anything you wanted? That’s why many people want to be leaders; they want to give orders. There’s just one problem: most people don’t want to be told what to do. If you have teenagers (or were one, once), you know that commanding is the quickest road to resistance.

“But,” you say craftily, “If I’m the boss, they have to do what I say!” Yup. Which means that the group’s performance is solely a reflection on you and your abilities. If you dictate their every action, then it’s your fault when things fail.

The Weakest Power is Coercion

The common view of power is Being Boss, telling people what to do. You limit their choices, so their only choice is to do what you want. That’s the power to restrict by coercion. With this kind of power, you’ve gotta be the smartest one around, since no one else’s ideas matter. And I have news for you: if you’re reading this, chances are you’re NOT the smartest one around. The smartest one around is retired on a tropical island right now, enjoying a fruit-flavored drink.

So even if you get all the coercive power you want, you’ll likely use it to make your life petty, and the lives of everyone around you miserable.

The Strongest Power is Engagement

Another source of power is engaging people. Connecting to their values and calling them to use their strengths in service of something meaningful. While only authority figures can use coercive power (who would put up with it unless forced?), anyone can use engaging power.

Remember your best mentor, boss, coach, Uncle, Aunt, parent, teacher. The ones who made you believe in yourself, find what was important, and really go for it. For me, it was 10th grade Geometry teacher Beth Schlesinger. She loved all us kids, even the goof-offs. She made math fun, added stories and songs, and had faith that we would rise to the challenge. Twenty two years later, we invited her to our reunion, and told her how vital she was in shaping our lives.

Mrs. S had all the keys: she helped us know our goal–we were there to learn Geometry, at the end of the day. And she made the work fun. She kept us creative with puzzles and games. She expected our best, and believed we were up to the challenge. When someone believes in you like that, you dream bigger dreams. You make yourself larger-than-life, and then you live up to it.

Start Engaging Everyone Around You

Start bringing out the best in the people around you. Learn what their goals are, and help them stay on track when they get side-tracked. Learn what they enjoy, and help make their work life fun. Learn about their hopes and dreams, and encourage them to take steps to achieve them. And above all, have faith in them and expect them to live up to that faith.

You’ll find that people want to be around you. When you lay out your vision, they want to sign up. They know that by becoming part of your mission, they’ll become more of who they want to be. You’ll discover that you’ve built the kind of loyalty that no amount of money or title can buy. And best of all, you can start now, with everyone around you. I know you’re up to the challenge; I have faith.

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Do Great Things!

– Stever

The most powerful kind of power

read time: 4 min