Which Is More Detrimental: Power Or Powerlessness?

WHAT COMES TO MIND when you think of powerful leaders? Do you envision the trustworthy, inspiring, and successful leader who steadfastly focuses on goals and who fosters genuine loyalty in his/her followers? Or do you see the ever lurking evil leader who craves power for personal gain, trampling whatever (or whoever) gets in his/her way? Power has long been viewed as a double-edge sword and as such has been cast out of business operations for fear of corruption. But what if power is the key element missing from your career?

Power Paradigm

Power, as many view it, is limited so it must be preserved and never diluted. A limited pie that only has so many servings. It is for the aristocrat, the superior, the wealthy, the elite, the titled and the cagey. This self-serving definition expects nothing more than ill intentions, misuse and abuse. The result is that power becomes the elephant in the room that no one acknowledges. Ignoring and banning the topic does not solve the problem or erase the harm. Certainly the misuse of power comes at a cost but what is the cost of prevalent powerlessness?

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The Problem with Powerlessness

Powerlessness puts you in a box. It limits you to a salute and execute mentality. When you are powerless you have no sense of ownership, you have limited job satisfaction, you have no room to show initiative and are less productive. One who lives in powerlessness lives by a list of shoulds: “you must do this at this time,”  “you should produce that,” “you should…” Powerlessness seeps into the crevices of an organization, slowing its momentum and sapping commitment. Powerlessness keeps organizations and individuals alike stuck in the past and in a rut. So what is the alternative?

Power is Energy

We need to re-define and understand power as the “ability to act or produce an effect.”  Like electricity, power moves us and enables us to perform. It aligns interests and gains support, which is the essence of leadership. It enables choices, builds confidence, and increases agility in the face of change. Power stirs calm and vital energy beyond anything bestowed by a formal title or position. It is an awareness that the ability to impact results, sway decisions, and respond to change is accessible to everyone. It is knowing YOU can make a meaningful contribution. Innovation, initiative, discretionary effort, and ownership stem from a personal sense of power.  Since power is leadership, we need to encourage both the training and application of effective power.

Pushing Past the Past

Embracing power means moving from the realm of shoulds into the realm of coulds: “I could do something different,” “I could enable, enlarge, expand, innovate…” It begins by employing a new power mindset. The great Greek mathematician and physicist Archimedes famously stated, “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world.” If he could think he could move the world, what is it that you could do? Once you understand how to apply your power, you can also leverage your influence to move what appears to be immobile. You just need the right tools used in the right way – I believe there are seven power levers that provide a path for you to move from should to could.

Seven Power Levers

A true leader who understands power will know when and how to exercise each of these power levers for optimal success. Over the next several posts we will begin an in-depth exploration of each and how you can use each lever to effectively wield your power.


Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt is an award-winning author of "Brilliant or Blunder: 6 Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Complexity.” She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. in 1984 to provide leaders with practical and effective solutions to navigate the modern business climate using situational mastery. Dr. Lippitt is a thought leader and speaker on executing change, optimal leadership, and situational analysis. She currently teaches in the MBA program at the University of South Florida. Mary is also the author of Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters.