The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while.
Below is a list of traits that we’ll use to define personal power on this blog. Bear in mind that these traits are merely manifestations of the principles particular to this blog – and not a claim to objective truth.
***Important Note: There are many manifestations of personal power. This post leans toward social leadership or social effectiveness as the manifestation.
1. They care what others think.
The world is full of people who claim to “not care” what other people think. This is rarely true. We’re social beings. Every last one of us is not merely a person, but a person among people.
We’re created by people, raised by people and become the individuals we are due (in large part) to the types of interactions we’ve had with others.
To suggest that you “don’t care” what others think in general is the lie of a self-deceiver. Those who insist on this lie are often the least powerful and most insecure among us. It is healthy to care what other people think. This means that you are sentient, non-sociopathic human being.
Most people are sentient, non-sociopathic human beings. And most people care what others think, whether or not they admit it.
Caring what other people think and indulging or catering to their every whim – these are two different things, of course.
Powerful people understand that other people matter. It’s wise to consider what they think, how they feel, what they do, and how your behavior may impact them.
2. They see the power in you.
See the light in others and treat them as if that is all you see.
Powerful people see your power. Even if you don’t see how capable you are, they probably do. This means that – altruistic acts aside – they will be less likely to do something for you that you can do for yourself.
Powerful people are not necessarily competing with you (even though you may be competing with them). Therefore, they don’t have a problem with you being the best you can be. In fact, they expect that from you.
If you’re looking for someone to go easy on you or hold low expectations, don’t hang around a powerful person. They won’t let you off the hook. This isn’t necessarily because they are mean. They may just believe in you more than you believe in yourself.
3. Powerful people state clear expectations.
Great leaders state out loud what they intend to do and in doing so, they get things done.
When a powerful person is appropriately in charge, they are clear about what they expect. They’ll give orders, offer clear directions and make it obvious what people need to do.
They won’t beat around the bush. They won’t pretend to be nice. In other words, they don’t hide their authority. Why should they? That would be a disservice to their subordinates.
Subordinates who care about getting things done experience these orders as a relief. Subordinates know very clearly what is expected and what they need to achieve, specifically. This makes life much easier. They can now focus on the task at hand without wondering what their authority figure wants.
4. They keep agreements.
Your life works to the degree you keep your agreements.
Agreements make the world work. When you make an agreement, keep it. From large scale business deals to taking out the trash, if you’ve agreed to do it, you’ll be more powerful if you follow through.
Why wouldn’t you do what you agreed to do? Weaker people get lazy, make excuses and find ways to break agreements they consciously made with other people (and themselves). Powerful people understand that the world wouldn’t (and often doesn’t) work without honoring agreements.
5. They hold you accountable.
So after a while, if people won’t accept your excuses, you stop looking for them.
Fail to follow through on an agreement with a powerful person and you’ll experience the consequences. Powerful people are not likely to look the other way or let things slide. They don’t want to indulge you.
When there is a fair consequence to be given, powerful people give it. It’s not necessarily what they wanted. They may feel for you, but know it is in your best interest to learn from experience. Why would they teach you that you can get away with failing to deliver on an expectation? How would that help you?
6. They don’t make excuses.
Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences.
When powerful people fail, they own it and expect to suffer the consequences. They get that. Excuses are for children. Powerful people don’t waste time blaming others or outside circumstances.
Failure is such a common, nearly inevitable experience in life. If we waste time justifying failure by blaming others (or ourselves), then we’re burning opportunity to make things right. To a powerful person, making a lame excuse is embarrassing. An excuse says, “I am inept and a victim of (often made-up) circumstances.”
5. They cannot be manipulated easily.
Strong people are typically stronger than your attempt to manipulate.
Because they do not practice the art of excuse-making, powerful people are not likely to accept your excuses. They tend to see through manipulation and demand the truth. They know that if you simply admit failure and take responsibility for it, you’ll be better off.
Are you beyond failure? Nobody is beyond it. We’re only human. Let’s deal with failure for what it is – a daily inevitability. Failure is not to be feared. It’s just something to accept and move beyond. Powerful people will expect you to fail and just keep going.
Making excuses is a form of manipulation – it doesn’t go far among powerful people.
6. Powerful people know their limitations.
Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.
You won’t hear powerful people claiming to do things they cannot do. They don’t make false promises or maintain false hope. You won’t hear them agreeing to things they have no intention of doing. You will hear them honestly admitting their weaknesses and limitations.
Knowing your limitations is a form of maturity. (Hopefully we all come to accept our limitations by midlife.) When you claim you can do what you cannot you, you put yourself in a position of weakness. When you make agreements you have no intention of keeping, you’ve just turned yourself into a liar.
Why pretend you can do something you cannot do? Why pump yourself up in the eyes of others? The only reason to do this is personal insecurity. Powerful people are not threatened by their limitations.
7. They hold their boundaries.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.
When you ask a favor of a powerful person, you’ll get an honest response. When you invite them to an event, they’ll be there if they agree to come. Don’t expect to be told yes if they really mean no. Don’t expect to be told yes when they are maxed out. And don’t take a no personally.
Likewise, powerful people tend to expect you to hold your boundaries. They are likely to accept your yes and no answers at face value. Honesty, maturity and keeping agreements all work together with every yes or no.
Maintaining clear boundaries is the most self and other respectful way to be.
8. Powerful people know what they want.
You don’t want to be starting a film not knowing what you want to do.
Powerful people know where they are headed. Goals, purpose and values factor in heavily to their decisions. With so many choices in life – so many directions a life can take – one must choose a path.
Choosing one path often means sacrificing others. It also opens you to criticism from others who may be headed in different directions. It’s all part of the process. You must choose a path, or wander aimlessly. Worse, you may find yourself on a path that others have chosen for you, according to their values.
Knowing that you are doing what you want – what you feel is right – with your life is a defining moment in the lives of the personally empowered.
9. They know when to submit to authority.
Good leaders lead. Great leaders know when to follow.
You’ve heard the saying that good leaders make the best followers. If you understand power, you understand when you are NOT in charge. When someone has legitimate authority over you, then you submit freely to that authority.
Resisting legitimate authority is a trait of the powerless. What happens when you resist? You invite intervention, monitoring and negative consequences.
When you submit to legitimate authority, you make your contribution and help systems work, rather than force them to break down. Powerful people don’t mind being a strong link in an even stronger chain.
10. They stay out of their own way.
Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.
Staying out of your own way – avoiding self-sabotage – is an act of high self-awareness. Most of us are programmed to fail in various ways. An empowered person understands this programming and accepts it.
This seems a necessary first step, as most of the solutions to self-sabotage only lead to more failure. Self-motivation and confidence are the natural results of overcoming failure programming.
Should you set a goal to become a powerful person?
Maybe. But why not set a goal to exhibit the qualities that powerful people exhibit? If you do, you will very likely become more powerful without involving your ego.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.