As previously discussed, people tend to work from either an external or internal locus of control. People who externalize a locus of control have little or no sense of their own power. People with an inner locus of control have a sense of ownership in what happens and are willing to take action (exert their power) to change what they can in their lives.
According to psychologist Anne Wilson Schaef, society regards power as a “zero-sum thing. “ If I have power, then you don’t. If you have it, then I don’t. However, Schaef believes that power is similar to love: the more we share it and empower others, the more power there is in the world.
Janet Hagberg outlines six stages of power in her book, Real Power: Stages of Personal Power in Organizations. Individuals operating mainly in the first three stages perceive that their power comes from outside themselves, while those in the later three stages view their power as emanating from within themselves.
Stage one is the stage of powerlessness – feeling that one has little to no power. This is the stage usually associated with young children (although adults can exist here), as they fully depend on adults/others for their survival. The second stage, power by association, occurs when a sense of power is achieved through personal relationships with a person of power.
The third level of power is power by achievement. This power originates from having accomplished feats or acquired items that are culturally deemed signs or symbols of success (e.g., degrees, 6-pack abs, oceanfront property). This is the level of power at which mainstream culture operates.
To move us into the next levels of power, we often need experiences that shift us away from the normal or majority ways, forcing us to question our ways of being and what power really is.
At the fourth level, power by reflection, we come to realize that true power is not something “out there”; rather, it is about who we are, what we stand for and what we truly value and believe. This stage is about thoughtful competency, integrity and finding deeper meaning.
Power by purpose is the fifth stage of power – a level that stems from clear attunement to one’s purpose in life. At this stage, we know what we are meant to do; we have clarity of vision and concrete goals that give a compelling sense of direction and energy to our daily lives. We live authentically and serve a larger cause by empowering others.
The final stage is power by gestalt or wisdom – the power that flows in sage-like people (Christ, Buddha). Here one is exceptionally capable and mature, and neither seeks nor desires power.
What stage do you usually operate from? What situations or people trigger you to lose your sense of power? What attitude (e.g., trust, gratitude) keeps you at a higher level of power?