When you think of the word ‘power’ what’s the association that immediately springs to mind? Is it a negative or positive connotation?
It’s likely that it will be negative, and that’s because power is usually associated with the concept of having ‘power over other people’.
There is another way to view power, and this is the approach I take. I prefer an optimistic approach; where you view power, used in the right way, as a force for good – not evil.
As I’ve written about before, are you drunk on power, this type of power is designed to help those around us. It provides the courage to take action when it’s needed. It comes from knowing ourselves and being comfortable to share power, rather than horde it.
This is a power that is initially drawn from within and enables you to speak up and be who you need to be.
Have you ever worried about speaking up in meetings or held back supporting an idea because you were afraid about how people might react?
If you have, chances are this is harming your career and your personal life.
Silence is Dangerous
Why? Because if you hold back your thoughts and remain silent you are preventing those around you from seeing the ‘real you’ and being exposed to your ideas. And worse, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to be heard.
There’s lots of pressures in today’s society. The 2015 Wellbeing in Australia survey found that anxiety symptoms were the highest they’ve been in the survey’s five-year history. While Beyond Blue’s, State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia (2017) report painted a bleak picture. One in five Australians (21%) took time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. This statistic was more than twice as high (46%) among those who considered their workplace mentally unhealthy.
Research also shows that full time working mums are often up to 40% more stressed.
While the causes of anxiety and stress are multi-faceted, there’s no doubt that it’s heightened when people feel they don’t have a voice.
People shy away from speaking up for a variety of reasons, including:
- They’ve been told they shouldn’t be opinionated
- Their confidence has been eroded and they worry about putting forward an idea that’s contrary to the prevailing view
- They are concerned about what people think of them and the consequences of speaking up
- They think people won’t like them if they question or challenge or they could be ridiculed in some way
Don’t Give Away Your Voice
By not speaking up you are walking away from your right to have a voice. You are stepping out of your power, and effectively giving it to someone else. Having a voice is essential for you to feel valued and important (and we all want to feel that). It helps create your sense of identity and bolsters your self-worth.
It is also important for your career and personal life. If you are not willing to put forward ideas, question, challenge and inquire it is very hard to advance in today’s ever-changing world. Ideas and opinions matter in organisations and you need to be able to formulate them and know how to rally people around them.
While on the personal front, if you give up your voice you allow others to speak on your behalf or make decisions for you. As a result, your wants and needs go unheard and ignored.
Get Comfortable with Power
So, what’s the answer? It’s about getting comfortable with power – your personal power.
This is power that is derived from within and is consciously acquired. At its core is an inner sense of self-worth. When you know and like yourself, and understand your behavioural triggers you can be more confident holding your own with peers and more senior stakeholders.
This makes it easier to take a stand on things that matter and to challenge the status quo. It also means you are less likely to let people impose their views on you. You’ll know when you need to speak up, even when this is hard.
When you do that, remember the words of Malala Yousafzai, when she said: “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful”.
Communities, organisations and societies desperately need people willing to take a stand when it matters.
Use Power as an Equaliser
When you use your voice and back yourself, you’ll find you start to balance out the power that operates in the system in which you live and work.
And when that happens, you’ll be surprised with the outcomes. I frequently found in the work environment that when I stood up for myself it took senior leaders by surprise; and that surprise worked to my advantage.
When power is equalised it is easier to speak with compassion, challenge assumptions, act collaboratively and to make more-informed and considered decisions.
So next time you think about being silent, remember the importance of standing out and having your voice heard. It’s good for you and those around you.
As the first female US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright said: “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent”.
I hope the same applies to you!
Getting you ready for tomorrow, todayTM.
Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact [email protected].