Personal Power: How to Get It
By Chelse Benham
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then
it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” - Audre Lorde (1934
-1992), poet and social activist
Power is the possession of control or command over others; authority;
ascendancy: power over men’s minds, according to the Random House College
Dictionary. Power is a game where some people are given or obtain the control
over others and it has been studied throughout the course of human history
dating back 3,000 years. To obtain power you must have certain basic skills.
Robert Greene, author of the best selling book “The 48 Laws of Power” points to
one crucial skill as the foundation upon which all other skills rest: the ability to
master your emotions.
“In general, power is socially constructed. Unfortunately in this country, there are
preconceived ideas. If you are a white male, physically fit with a deep voice
you’re half way there. For the rest of us it takes more,” said Theresa Norman,
lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at The University of Texas-
Pan American. ”Power to persuade comes from coolly, dispassionately and
methodically looking at both sides. However, people who come across as too
cold don’t persuade. The key ingredient to good communicating is being sincere.
Believe in what you are saying and others will listen. Control how you say it and
you’ll be able to persuade.”
Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, attributed most of the world’s problems
to people feeling powerless and this sense of powerlessness breeds fear. This
fear is of the unknown and the inability to control the world outside themselves.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher and psychologist, wrote, “My idea is
that every specific body strives to be master over all space and to extend its
force and to thrust back all that resists its extension. But it continually encounters
similar efforts on the part of other bodies and ends by coming to an arrangement
with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: Thus they conspire together
At www.buildfreedom.com, Frederick Mann, author and entrepreneur, identifies
power, in his article “How to Achieve and Increase Personal Power,“ as:
• the ability to influence others,
• the ability to communicate,
• the amount of enthusiasm and optimism you expend,
• and how much self-esteem and confidence you display.
Mann writes, “Above all, personal power is the ability to achieve what you want.
More than anything else, it is personal power that brings you success and
So what can you do to increase your personal power? The first thing to do is
become more self aware. Mann writes, “Self-observation is a thinking skill that
enables you to become critically aware of what you think, say and do – and the
consequences you create.”
To become a good self-observer you must distance yourself from the past and
present. Greene advises to look at moments in your past that cost you your goal,
not hold on grudgingly to them, but to educate yourself. “Half the game is
learning how to forget those events in the past that eat away at you and cloud
your reason. If you can evaluate and observe yourself in this way, you can learn
to break the patterns of the past – an immensely valuable skill.”
Once you have begun to break free from your past and have learned from your
mistakes it is time to turn your attentions to the future. The ultimate ability is to
see far ahead, several moves into the future and calculate, strategize and
manipulate circumstances to the eventual desired result. Greene cautions that
you must do so with cunning and indirectness or risk putting people off and
sabotaging your goal. “By training yourself to be indirect, you can thrive in the
modern court, appearing the paragon of decency while being the consummate
manipulator.” Composure is everything and reputation is tantamount. Never
And all of this comes down to one thing: the power of choice.
The “power of choice” is, for Mann, the most powerful human ability and it is
sandwiched between two fundamental philosophies or personality mechanisms.
1. The reactive-responsive orientation – is the reacting to events and
external conditions, trying to change conditions outside yourself;
2. The creative orientation – is the use of evaluating a situation and
creatively changing your perspective and ultimately your desired result by
In the reactive-responsive orientation you experience yourself being at the effect
(or mercy) of external circumstances, that is, more or less helpless. In the
creative orientation you experience yourself at cause over (or in control of)
external circumstances, that is powerful.
Some questions to ask yourself after every interaction are:
• How powerful was I in that situation?
• How could I have been more powerful?
• What can I learn from the interaction?
• What do I think, do or say that reduces my power?
Self-observation is the key and most crucial skill to altering and increasing
personal power. Really evaluating how you present yourself and engage with
people and situations is something you can do immediately to affect change in
your life. Greene and Mann offer some behaviors that immediately weaken
personal power and a few are listed here:
• talking too much
• being negative and pessimistic
• associating with people who are negative and pessimistic
• appearing unorganized and disheveled
• emotionally reacting to situations
• rushing to judgment
• appearing arrogant or overconfident
• blending in and getting lost in the crowd
Because power is a game, and we all play it whether we want to or not, it
requires that we wear many masks and have a bag of “deceptive tricks.” Greene
suggests that “deception and masquerade should not be seen as ugly or
immoral. All human interaction requires deception on many levels, and in some
ways what separates humans from animals is our ability to lie and deceive.”
Deception is a developed art of civilization and the most potent weapon in
the game of power. – “The 48 Laws of Power”
Patience is the next skill required in the acquisition of power. “Nothing about
power is natural; power is more godlike than anything in the natural world. And
patience is the supreme virtue of the gods, who have nothing but time,” Greene
writes. “It will help you from making monumental blunders.” Being able to
patiently evaluate and weigh all the issues to a situation then formulate a
decisive action requires practice and patience. Impatience is the impediment to
power and can cost you dearly.
If you look at power as a game and learn to distance yourself from situations, you
can more easily prevent placing judgment to circumstances and categorizing
things as “good” or “evil” and instead begin to see them as simply issues of a
given situation. Removing judgment from a situation removes the emotion
surrounding it. “Power is a game – this cannot be repeated too often – and in
games you do not judge your opponents by their intentions but by the effect of
their actions. Train your eye to follow the results of their moves, the outward
circumstances, and do not be distracted by anything else,” advises Greene. By
distancing yourself, you detach from the situation. This allows a more methodical
evaluation of the issues and a slower, more patient approach to be taken.
At Careers and Workplace web site, the article “Increase Your Personal Power to
Get Ahead” by Anita Bruzzese with the Gannett News Service, lists
recommendations from Kathleen Kelley Reardon, author of “The Secret
Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle.” Reardon writes,
that her experience and research has shown that “you know you need to work on
your personal power and political savvy when you find your way to success
constantly blocked.” In her book, Reardon offers a few suggestions to help
increase personal power.
Becoming an expert - When it comes to getting ahead, the most important thing
is to get other people to realize just how good you really are. That means you
need to become a person that asks ''how'' instead of ''why.'' This shows that you
are willing to do what needs to be done.
Dedication - Don't run around like a chicken with its head cut off, but assume a
''busyness'' that shows you are in control, thinking clearly and logically. At the
same time, you can show your dedication by taking on tasks your boss doesn't
Creating a positive image - ''Impression management is a personal power
tactic,'' Reardon said. That means you want to dress in accordance with what top
brass seems to be wearing, creating a demeanor that shows confidence and
Power is a seductive force. You know it when you see it and feel it when it’s
present. There are those people who will never care to study and understand the
elements of power or want to acquire it, while others know, almost instinctively,
how to get it and use it. Power is always around us. We can be tossed to-and-fro,
reacting to the capricious “winds” of power or raise our sails and steer towards
our goals using those same winds to drive us forward. The choice is ours.
"Oh, to be free! To be my own master! Such a thing would be greater than all the
magic and all the treasure in all the world!" (Genie in Aladdin's lamp) - Walt
Disney’s "Aladdin" 1992