Be Careful the Stories You Tell Yourself About Power

December 17, 2013 0 Comments

Originally published at Take The Lead.

Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In on Kindle earlier this year, I noticed one of the most underlined passages was this one: “Fear is at the root of so many barriers women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged.”

The fact that this is one of the most underlined passages is interesting, but I don’t think it’s fear women are wrestling with exactly when it comes to leadership… or if it is fear, it’s certainly not just fear on the part of women. Then for a while I thought what women were really wrestling with was shame. Just look at the chords Brené Brown has struck with her talks on vulnerability and shame.

These days, I think it has more to do with a feeling of “enoughness,” a very real sense women often have that we lack the power we need to make change happen in our own lives, careers, organizations, or communities. I hear so many women across all ages and backgrounds express this same concern around not having enough—enough knowledge, expertise, skill, or influence—to do something they want to do that it’s impossible to ignore.

This sense of lack is not surprising. We’re not represented well in the media, and for too long, it’s simply been true that women haven’t experienced the same power men have.

But is it really “power” we haven’t felt? Here’s the great thing about the definition of power we use at Take The Lead… When you think of power in terms of “power to”, as longtime women’s advocate Gloria Feldt says, (versus “power over” people and ideas, or “power within” existing institutions and systems), the world suddenly opens up. The world does not suddenly become more fair or equitable, but one’s felt sense of personal power transforms. This can totally change the way you operate within the world.

So many of us understand power as something outside of ourselves, something to be sought after and achieved. We may think we are confident and know our own worth because we walk around with goals and plans. But true confidence has little to do with goals or plans for the future. It has to do trusting that place in our minds and hearts where any new intention or piece of new work begins. It’s not something to be looked for or found outside of ourselves. The most powerful women I know are women who back themselves up, not just others.

Relationship, connection, resources (whether the resources be money, people, information, or time), credibility, influence—all of these things matter and are to be found outside of ourselves. These are things we create with other people. But power is something we create alone.

As for fear? This is human. We know it never totally goes away. But by thinking of terms of “power to” and stepping up into leadership, our fear simply becomes more and more besides the point. The work we really want to be doing comes more and more into focus.

Ready to do more in your career and life in 2014? Join us and 1 million other participants on February 19th for the Take The Lead Challenge Launch Event, designed to inspire you and show you how to embrace your power and fulfill your potential. Learn more about the event and sign up for the free livestream.


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