Power Is Not A Dirty Word

This is a guest post by Achim Nowak. Achim is the author of Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within and Power Speaking: The Art of the Exceptional Public Speaker. An internationally recognized authority on leadership influence, Achim has coached entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 executives around the globe.

Power is Not A Dirty Word



Yes, I used to think power was a dirty word. I had it all mixed up with ego, bravado, narcissism. The Donald Trump kind of self-flaunting.  And I was spiritual, after all…

Then I had a wake-up call.

It happened during a retreat in Arizona. For the first time in my life I had taken time off to look at myself. I was in my mid-thirties, a successful theatre director in New York, recognized for my work, pretty sure that I “was somebody.” Until Reverend Mona, the facilitator of my desert experience, looked me squarely in the eye one day, held the look way too long, and uttered the words: “You need to stop being a doormat.”

Boy, she pissed me off.

When I stopped reeling from Mona’s remark, I quickly saw all the ways in which I truly was not very powerful at all. And here’s the part I instantly “got:” Because I did not have a clue about what personal power really was, my effectiveness with everyone I worked with was diminished. Day in, day out. Ouch.



I have since learned that all of us have different sources of power. I like to call them power plugs. I also know that exceptional leaders understand these sources of personal power and use them to great effect. Here is a Power Plugs model (created with psychologist Margarita Gurri, Ph.D.) which I use in my work with leaders at every organizational level. The notion of a plug implies that we can access these sources of power. Plug into them. It’s a very practical path to something that can seem elusive and overwhelming.

Our 5 Power Plugs


Let’s look at just one of the Power Plugs right now – Position Power. How well we play with Position Power impacts every single business relationship we have. Even when this power seems to be clear, knowing how to use it never is. It tends to confound the individual who possesses it, and it can be even more confounding to anyone who engages with the individual who has lots of it.

Here are some ways in which we can better plug into Position Power – our own and that of the colleague we’re engaging with.


Plug into your Position Power

1.  Be comfortable saying “yes” or “no” and setting limits.

People with position power know they cannot be everything to everybody. They know not to say “yes” to ideas that do not feel right to them. They do this without being dismissive of others.

 2. Enjoy stating your point-of-view.

Be comfortable in having a point-of-view. Avoid showing up in “neutral.” More importantly, enjoy stating your point-of-view and allow others to have a different point-of-view.

3. Invite disagreement.

Demonstrate comfort with your position power by encouraging a diversity of opinions. Because others may judiciously edit themselves around you, advance the conversation by actively soliciting a perspective that may be different from yours.



4. Take charge of situations with ease.

In situations where you are expected to make a decision, small or large – make the decision. Others will respect you for the ease with which you do so.


Play Well with “their” Position Power

5. Follow Power Etiquette.

Allow the power player to take the lead in the conversation. Let him have the final word. Allow her to set the conversational themes. It’s a simple matter of etiquette, and an indirect way of deferring to their position power.

6. Explicitly acknowledge the Person’s Position Power.

Use phrases that directly refer to the person’s position power:

That must have been a really tough decision to make!  

What words of wisdom might you have for me about …?

7.  Surprise them with an Unexpected Question.

We tend to play it safe when speaking to someone who has lots of position power. Don’t. Take a risk and ask a surprising question – you will be remembered!



8. Don’t Disappear.

It’s easy to cede an entire conversation to someone with lots of position power. Stay in the conversation. Match the amount of time they take up in the conversation.


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