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Power Blindness

Not only can we be poisoned by power (see my recent article “Power Poisoning”) we can be blind to the impact we have on others who have less power, rank and privilege relative to ourselves.

 

It is easy for us to point to others who have been poisoned by power. I’m sure most of us can think of people with more power who have let us down, seem more self-focused, behave arrogantly or seem dismissive. If we ask ourselves whether we behave like that, it’s harder to recognise and admit that we do. We identify more easily with situations where we feel less power than others. This is power blindness.

 

If others who have less power than you were to give you honest feedback, would they say that you have been poisoned at times? It may not be big things and is often unintended. Examples include:

 

  • Not replying to calls/emails to those with less power (ie placing your priorities above others)
  • Cancelling or regularly being late to meetings with people with less power, as there are more important people to meet
  • Overlooking or under-appreciating people who are not like you (eg. Not involving or listening to people who are less vocal or verbally articulate, assuming they don’t have much to contribute)
  • Keeping closed within a power clique and not noticing people on the outer (eg. “Boys club” that do not involve women, academics who don’t speak with administration, P&L units who don’t engage support units)
  • Making assumptions that people understand what you are saying (eg. Technology savvy people talking in jargon to colleagues who don’t understand)
  • Taking privileges for granted, or assume others have similar privileges (eg. people who are well off saying that everyone has the same opportunity, without empathy for the hardship of others)

 

Those with less power feel marginalised, overlooked, excluded or not important. They may not be conscious of these feelings as they become internalised. Over time, it builds up. It can impact people’s level of engagement, performance and sense of self-worth. It certainly is not a way to inspire people to perform and talent will remain under-utilised within organisations. Power differential will always exist, so greater awareness and wiser use of power is needed for organisations, teams and individuals to flourish and perform at their best.

 

I know I have been on both sides – the one that marginalises others and the one being marginalised. It is impossible for us to be aware of our impact on others every time. The only way for us minimise this power blindness is to gain honest feedback on our impact. Safety for people to be able to provide honest feedback will be your greatest advantage as a leader.

 

How aware are you of your power blindness?

 

Related articles:

People may be afraid of you and why you should care

High achievers, beware!

Sweat the small stuff in leadership

The double edged sword of being smart as a leader

My Blog

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