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Power is Given, Not Grabbed


“Great leaders find ways to connect with their people and help them fulfill their potential."

-- Steven J. Stowell

Have you ever watched reality TV shows like Survivor, the Bachelor, or Dance Moms?

Let's take Survivor as an example. In case you haven't watched it, the premise of the show is that contestants are transported to a remote warm-weather destination where they have to fend for themselves and compete in team-based (or tribe) challenges. Every three days the contestants vote on who gets eliminated or kicked out.

Those who are eliminated are considered the "weak links" in the tribe, meaning that they contribute the least to the group, either in skill, attitude, or behavior.

If we were to ascribe to Machiavellian power politics, those who won on these types of shows (and in life) would be the ones who manipulated their way to power, but "science finds that power is not grabbed, but is given to individuals by groups. What this means is that your ability to make a difference in the world is shaped by what other people think of you. Your capacity to alter the state of others depends on their trust in you. Your ability to empower others depends on their willingness to be influenced by you. Your power is constructed in the judgments and actions of others."

Let's explore the next four Power Principles!

Power Principle 5: Groups Give Power to Those who Advance the Greater Good

Through seventy studies or more, Dr. Keltner found that the strongest indicators of who would be given power and influence within their group were those who authentically displayed five social tendencies:

  • Enthusiasm: speaking up, making bold assertions, and expressing an interest in others

  • Kindness: expressing appreciation, cooperating with others, and dignifying what others say and do

  • Focus: articulating clear purposes and direction, keeping others on task

  • Calmness: helping others maintain positive perspectives during times of stress, telling stories that ease tensions, practicing kind speech

  • Openness: asking great questions, listening to others with receptive minds, and offering creative ideas and new perspectives

Power Principle 6: Groups Construct Reputations That Determine the Capacity to Influence

"Reputation is the judgment of an individual's character arrived at by a social collective. At its core, reputation is about character, trust, and integrity, or the capacity to advance the greater good." If you look at your own group dynamics, say at work, you know who has a good reputation or a bad one, and these reputations influence how you relate to those individuals. "By constructing reputations, groups shape an individual's capacity for influence in two distinct ways:" creating opportunities to influence others and making individuals aware of the consequences of their actions, for good or bad.

"The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; to be kind, but not weak; to be humble, but not timid."

-- Jim Rohn

Power Principle 7: Groups Reward Those who Advance the Greater Good with Status & Esteem

When an individual's reputation indicates that they contribute to the well-being of the group, they are rewarded with elevated status through our body language (e.g., blush, bow, head nod, averted gaze, etc.), words (e.g., compliments, flattery, formalities, apologies, praise, etc.), and behaviors (e.g., undivided attention, awards, gifts, seating placement, etc.). "Status, then, is precious; it is something that individuals crave and that groups award selectively to inspire magnanimity and hard work."

Power Principle 8: Groups Punish Those Who Undermine the Greater Good with Gossip

"Gossip is how we articulate a person's capacity for advancing the greater good and spread that information to others." If you're anything like me, this word (gossip) may not be helpful to you in understanding this social punishment because we often see it as a negative human tendency. So, let's flip the narrative a little. Consider you are looking for a gutter company to replace the gutters on your home. Are you more likely to hire a company with one star and 10 reviews on Google, or a company with 100+ five-star reviews? This is how we use "gossip" to keep those who do not work for the greater good from maintaining power. We obviously need to ensure that we are not abusing this social dynamic to slander or falsely hurt others, but holding others accountable for their actions prevents those less committed to the greater good from gaining or maintaining power.

This week, reflect on your experience with power -- at home, at work, in your community.

  • How do you practice these principles in your life?

  • What actions can you take to increase your power?

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