Is a secret to personal power sitting right under your nose? It was mine. I grew up a negative, cynical kid, and it wasn’t until relative adulthood that I discovered the ability for simple joy to help me find my power in otherwise powerless situations – mostly, but not only, on the job.
Turns out I’m not crazy or stupid (the remnants of that old cynic talking). Research into the power of positive thinking is thrusting happiness into the business and leadership press. It turns out that positive thinking leads to success more than success leads to positive attitudes. The U.K. is even launching a national Happiness Index this year to measure the national well being.
What goes around comes around
I like to dig beneath the data, because when we understand the dynamics producing the information, we gain power over how to bring it intentionally into our lives.
People respond to those around them. This is how we have power to affect others emotionally – and to be affected. To understand how this dynamic affects the business climate, we don’t have to look any farther than the stock market, which fluctuates our portfolios based on some impossible-to-predict-or-measure emotional confidence factor (we don’t fully understand it but we measure it in the Consumer Confidence Index).
Using the market dynamic as an example, it follows that when you inject an attitude of joy and optimism into the group around you, you provide others the opportunity to be infected with your positive outlook and thus infect even more people. This ability to infect and affect others works for good and bad – especially as it impacts those below you in the pecking order. So the question is, what do you want to be coming back at you from those you infect?
But there’s more to the positive attitude power than even that. The feeling of joy is a clue that you’re doing something – surrounded by something – “onto something” – that lights up your soul. If you treat it like a clue and follow the clues, your joy will lead you to places that bring you even more joy. This is true in our careers as much as it is in our personal lives. If we really let it lead us, it takes us straight to our purpose in life, and in our purpose, we discover power we didn’t know we had that can fuel and support us as we take on the tough work required to change the world.
Of course we are all programmed with lots of “reasons” to ignore the joy clues littering our lives, or otherwise diminish them, to the point where many of us don’t even notice the little energy blip of joy that lights up sometimes when we do things that would bring us joy if we just paid attention.
If you’re on a personal power journey, however, I suggest that you begin to pay attention to those joy blips. Anytime you are faced with a choice on where to put your energy – open this email or that? – go the long way or the short way? – tackle this project or that? – follow the more joyful choice and see what it has to teach you about yourself and what powers you up. Think of it like a life-sized version of Angry Birds. You’re always working to make your next flail at the pigs more effective (i.e., your daily, Sisyphean life) but if you can snag one of those little golden eggs, you get some extra points that pay off in other ways.
Always snag the joy in every activity you can and over time your joy-score is higher. You’re more positively infecting those around you and – according to those who measure such things – you’re increasing your chances of success. You have nothing to lose except your cynicism and everything to gain. What are you waiting for?
A key leadership skill is learning to manage your personal power in every situation. Just like balancing on one foot, once you understand the feeling of InPower, it’s easier to identify when you unconsciously give your power away and can take steps to retrieve it and catch yourself earlier next time.
How do you know you’ve just given your InPower away?
Our emotions are excellent indicators of our InPower balanced state. When we’re InPower, we are calm, balanced, unapologetic and free of the culture around us. By contrast, fear, anger, doubt and guilt are sure-fire signals that you’re giving your power away and need to take it back. Similarly, expressions of disrespect, distrust, irresponsibility and unkindness, given by others (and believed by you), mean you’re off balance and out of power. These emotions and reactions are not “good or bad”, they are merely indicators of your power stance, signals to you and others around you that you are vulnerable to being knocked even more off balance. They mean that your power is leaking and in need of repair.
“Taking back your power” is as simple – and as hard – as paying attention to these emotional signals and putting yourself in a genuinely positive state. Sometimes this can be challenging, causing us to let go of beliefs and unconscious reactions that no longer serve us, and other times it’s really quite easy. Always it is a choice.
Once we become adept at managing our own InPower balanced state, we can also practice it in the world, helping others around us attain more InPower so that the groups we lead as a whole are more powerful. An InPower leader can not only foster group power but direct it into achieving great things in the world.
Not your fault?
Often we like to pretend that no one else notices when we’re out of power, or convince ourselves that our lack of power is someone else’s fault. This approach is tantamount to admitting our powerlessness and waiting around for someone to allow us to be in our power. Guess what? The chances that someone will give a powerless person power is about zero. Plus, no one can give you your internal power; you need to show them how powerful you already are and how much you deserve more power of the type they can give (e.g., authority, money, title etc.) In short, powerlessness is a lousy strategy for gaining power.
Anyone who believes no one notices their InPower state, sometimes unconsciously, is fooling themselves. While an occasional wobble may go unnoticed, regular flailing is clear to everyone – except sometimes the out-of-power folks themselves who rely too heavily only on external signs like money – to diagnose their leadership power.
Most of us aren’t used to feeling InPower and balanced because it is a discipline that must be learned and practiced. It’s certainly not reinforced by our culture or media. Looking at the headlines and typical daily routine most of us find ourselves in, it seems as though our culture is working hard to keep us out of power. In addition, we’re not born with InPower. Learning to take back our power requires that we notice when we are in balance, when we give it away, and then making the choice to stop giving it away; this is an adult skill, not one babies come wired with.
Unlike external power, which tends to have natural resource limits that people often squabble and fight over, InPower benefits from an unlimited supply that requires no competition with others to access. Each individual has an unlimited supply of InPower, and when InPower individuals get together and focus on accomplishing things, the total supply merely expands.
So what do you do?
There are many practical ways you can gain balance. Learn to read the signals of when you’re wobbling out of it and take back your personal power – for yourself and for the people around you that you are leading to change the world. My weekly newsletter provides you prompts to help you become conscious of where you are in and out of power, as will these blog posts.
In upcoming weeks we’ll be exploring the way our language can tip us off to power drains and provide us tools to take back our power and even learn to speak truth to power. Follow the Take Back Your Power series of posts or subscribe to the blog to be notified of these posts when they go up. I hope you’ll not only join us for this power journey, but share your stories and experiences with InPower along the way.
Let’s start with the notion that you are priceless – an utterly unique mix of experience, judgment and talent. Do you feel resistance to that notion? Not true? Impractical? Culturally irrelevant? Play with me anyway. Let go of those negative ideas for just a minute. Just find that part of you that knows you’re priceless and let’s move on.
Next we’ll accept the fact that there are limited resources in any particular situation – a company, a project, a market, a country – whatever. No matter how limited, it’s important to realize that there are resources and they do find their way to people in a variety of ways. If they’re not coming to you, they’re going to someone else. Does that feel unfair? Hey, I didn’t say you were the only one that was priceless, did I?
People Aren’t Worth Anything
People – including you – are totally priceless, which makes us all worth the same, which makes us all worth nothing – because people aren’t worth money, that’s called slavery. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to access the resources we can because we have mouths to feed, bills to pay and any number of other responsibilities that we can only fulfill with money.
I have always taken an InPower approach to financial compensation – and my satisfaction with financial remuneration has fluxuated with my situation. I’ve given up money in order to obtain experience (new challenges, new expertise, new contacts or lifestyle bennies like flexibility) and I’ve taken money to use my talents on behalf of others. Now that I’m a consultant it’s easier for me to negotiate financial vs. other benefits on a project-by-project basis, but the same dynamic held for me in my corporate jobs. And I don’t regret this approach at all. In some cases, I had to take a job for less (learning later I left money on the table) to learn not to do that anymore!
One thing all this negotiation has taught me was that when it was the right job or project, money has never been the issue. I didn’t say money wasn’t an issue for the jobs I wanted, I said for the right jobs – where my employer/client and I both gained tremendously – it wasn’t an issue. More often than not, for the right job I am compensated more than I expected and sometimes more than I asked for. And what this means is that I know now that I can ask for whatever I want (within “reason”, see below) and the right jobs will give it to me.
In the Equal Pay Gap – What’s “Reasonable” Compensation to Ask For?
Here’s the crux of it. The data tells us that women still make less than men and so I believe that’s true on a statistical and social scale. They also tell you that women often don’t negotiate for as many benefits, making their total package worth less. The science of this is fascinating but here is what struck me most clearly in a recent article at Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge Blog:
Research shows that in conditions of ambiguity, if you bring men and women into the lab and you say either one of two things: “Work until you think you’ve earned the $10 we just gave you,” or “Work and then tell us how much you think you deserve,” the women work longer hours with fewer errors for comparable pay, and pay themselves less for comparable work. But if there’s a standard [that men and women know], then this result goes away. (Hannah Riley Bowles)
If find this hugely empowering because it indicates that ambiguity is often the culprit, and ambiguity is something we as individuals can deal with. How? In applying for the job we need to get information to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about what this employer typically pays, what others make, what are industry standards in our geographical location etc. The research implies that if we’re armed with such information all of us – men and women – will often negotiate for the right sized package.
This is a perfect example of how to turn an unempowering situation – negotiating salary or project fees – into an InPower situation. Armed with knowledge and your own assessment of your value, in that situation for that opportunity, employees feel confident in their ask and are likely to get a fair salary.
If you don’t negotiate for your salary,
they walk away happy that they paid you less
but wonder why they hired you.
— Kathleen McGinn
As a leader, we’re often in the position of hiring, in which case this principle works in reverse and we bear the responsibility for giving all applicants similar information about salary so we don’t unintentionally – or unethically – disadvantage some of the applicants from getting a fair salary.
Standing In Your Power in Salary Negotiations
So knowledge is good and evens the playing field a bit, but it’s not where the true power lies in the negotiation. Here’s the secret to an InPower salary negotiation: as the employee – when you make the informed ask, do you feel worth it? If they say no, do you feel like it’s their loss? If they say yes, do you make your choice fully and freely and 100% unapologetically?
The way to tell if you’re not InPower is that once you give your agreement – freely and of your own volition – you feel abused or regretful the moment you sign the employment contract or send the email saying “no thanks.” Try to work this part out before you close the negotiation. Imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve said yes and if you feel at all regretful, review your negotiating position and try to come up with another response – or walk away. The power in any negotiation is held by the person who is most willing to walk.
As the employer you need to make sure you’re InPower also. Did you make a fair offer based on researching the comps? Was the applicant adequately informed of the salary range? Was the applicant fairly treated?
If the answer to all these things is YES! then no matter which side of the negotiation you’re on, you cut a good deal and can feel proud. Even more importantly the actual dollars involved have just become largely irrelevant. Social stats be dammed.
Sure it takes some work to get the information, work through some of your own demons about self-worth and competitiveness and stuff, but hey – what are you worth to you?