“Power With” or “Power Over”: Which is the Way Forward?
Recently, I was in an interactive workshop of female leaders, and a number of women voiced that they had negative feelings around the word “power”. I must confess, that was my belief for a number of years, based on my experience with leaders and leadership. However, recently I have changed my perspective around power after being energized and impressed at the way so many of the female leaders around the world responded to the pandemic. They were confident, decisive, and worked collaboratively with their teams and even consulted female leaders in other countries regarding their policies, practices and lessons learned.
The time has come for us to change our mindsets from “power over” to “power with”. Examples of “power with” include how Jacinda Ardern during the pandemic broadcast nationally to her fellow New Zealanders in her sweatshirt coming from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than command and control. How scientists from around the world banded together to find a vaccine for COVID-19 in record time, also demonstrated “power with”.
When you think of “power with”, what images does it conjure up? What does it mean to you? I see men and women standing together in a circle holding hands. I see community. To me it means admitting I don’t have all the answers and working together with others to solve complex issues and generate creative solutions. When I think of “power over” I think of a man on his own at the top of a hierarchy, making the decisions on his own from a place of ego, without seeing the need to consult with and understand various perspectives.
“Power over” is when one person or group unilaterally, usually through their political and/or financial influence, imposes their views and ways of working on others for their own gain, rather than trying to understand others and see the world through a different lens. They are threatened by new ideas and perspectives and often want to maintain the status quo that keeps them in power. They also encourage and support competition over collaboration.
The days of the Lone Wolf are over. Complex issues such climate change and systemic racism require leaders from a variety of backgrounds, disciplines, sectors and countries to solve them.
I believe that “power with”, which involves collaboration, is the way forward.
In order to collaborate it is important to:
- Believe that more than one “head” is better than one; that multiple perspectives around an issue lead to more creative and sustainable solutions
- Trust those you are collaborating with
- Be clear on your role and that of others in the process
- Have values aligned with those you are collaborating with
- Be open to new ways of understanding and looking at a problem
- Come from a place of service; of making a positive difference in the world.
What does power look and feel like for you? I welcome your thoughts and comments below on “power over” and “power with”.