Power: What You Bring to the Table

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I was born with a natural curiosity about the world and an ability to pick up information and process it really quickly. During my school-age years, I was always on the accelerated track in my school, which in grade 4 was actually named the “Gifted and Talented Program.” My dad had a Ph.D. in Machine Learning, which is the space in the computer science world that specializes in Artificial Intelligence, and during his career he was associated with CalTech, Princeton, and University of Pennsylvania. These details aren’t shared to boast… they’re meant to paint a picture for you of the environment I grew up in. It’s not shocking that I built my identity around being smart, and thought that intellectualism, and ultimately “being right,” was the most important way to be respected and taken seriously, and eventually make some kind of difference.

By the time I'd gone on to college and entered into the professional world, and I had learned a rather sobering fact: no matter how smart I was, there was always some article or book I hadn’t read, or some piece of information to which I didn’t have access. At the end of the day, there was ALWAYS someone who knew something more than I did. That was a rough realization. How was I ever going to be respected and influential if there was always someone else in the room who was smarter than I was?

Well… in the last several years, as Kara and I have become experts on change and what it takes to be influential, I’ve discovered something really empowering...

We think about influence in two parts: Power and Pathway. When I first started thinking about being influential, I thought that a Convincing Argument was the best path to bringing people along. A Convincing Argument is what we call a Pathway: it’s an approach one might take to achieve an influence goal. There are many other pathways besides a Convincing Argument, but that was the one I was most fluent in. What I didn’t think about, though, was Power. Power is what you have behind you when you come to the proverbial influencer’s table. It’s what you can build up and leverage, and what will make whatever Pathway you choose, more effective.

What’s so empowering about thinking about Power sources is that you can work on building them irrespective of who or where you are, AND you can focus on your strengths. Here’s a list of Power Sources:

  • Expertise
  • Communication
  • Familiarity
  • Likeability
  • Title
  • Resources
  • Network
  • Reputation
  • Grit

If I think back to earlier in my life, I was obsessed with Expertise. I thought that was the way to become respected and influential. If I couldn’t be sure I was right, how could I possibly convince someone else to think or act accordingly? Well… it turns out there are eight other major power sources that also help to build influence. Over the course of the next several months we’re going to dig into these Power sources and explore what they mean and why they’re important. In the meantime, take a moment and think for yourself: Which of these power sources do you think you rely on the most? Which of them have you neglected?

-- Stephanie Judd, Cofounder, wolf & heron