I make a habit of studying powerful people. Those individuals that have the ability to move and influence others are fascinating to watch and listen to. Be they politicians, actors, corporate or spiritual leaders, they are not necessarily the brightest, the most knowledgeable or even the most experienced in their fields, but they have mastered the art of making others think they are the brightest, most knowledgeable and most experienced.
Now, I could make another long list of all the common traits that many powerful people share, but that’s been done to death. I find it easier and more interesting to list the traits that powerful people avoid.
Powerful people consciously avoid actions that portray them as weak or uncertain and habits that undermine their powerful image. In making my list, I was struck by the fact that these power-sapping traits are often seen, disproportionately, in women! Oh, dear. No wonder many of us are not taken as seriously as we should be! I narrowed down my list of power-sapping behaviors to three general categories and refer to them as: A Woman’s Kryptonite:
2. Emotional Extremes
Do any of you remember the comic and TV hero, Superman? He could soar like a bird, stop a charging locomotive, leap tall buildings in a single bound and was the larger-than-life defender of truth, justice and the American Way. He was invincible. Unless…he was exposed to a mysterious element known only as “Kryptonite”. Kryptonite rendered the super-hero weak and helpless. Superman had his Kryptonite, and we Superwomen have ours.
Powerful people don’t fidget. Fidgeting takes different forms, from physical to verbal, but in all it’s variations, fidgeting says, “I’m uncomfortable and self-conscious right now.”
You’ll not find a hair-twirler among them! They sit or stand quietly and their movements are deliberate.
Physical fidgeting might be playing with your hair, biting your fingernails, tapping your toe or your pencil, squirming in your seat, or so on and so forth. Watch Oprah, Queen Elizabeth, Michele Obama or film clips of the late Margaret Thatcher. You’ll not find a hair-twirler among them! They sit or stand quietly and their movements are deliberate. They may, in fact, be feeling nervous or stressed on the inside, but their outward demeanor does not reveal it. Their outward appearance is one of calm, cool confidence.
Even more women fall prey to the Kryptonite of verbal fidgeting. What do I mean by verbal fidgeting? I mean that many women seem uncomfortable with silence, and fill the void with nervous or useless chatter. Powerful people make a statement and let it sit there for maximum effect. They don’t explain themselves, apologize, retract, revise or make useless conversation. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Nothing says uncertainty like verbal fidgeting.
Frustration and Angry Outbursts
Displays of frustration or anger do not communicate power – they signal to others that you have lost control. This type of emotional extreme destroys your base of power and puts you in a vulnerable, weakened position when it comes to negotiations of any sort. Animals, in particular, are acutely aware of the signals that convey relative power or weakness, because recognizing strength and weakness is so imperative for their survival. Remember, however, that humans are animals, too. Even when you don’t yell but your voice belies an inner frustration, you telegraph to others that you have lost your confidence, your nerve, and your personal power.
At the other end of the emotional extreme spectrum is excessive, smothering love.
When normal love and affection morph into an extreme form, smothering love actually sends a message of subordination, like a lip-licking, groveling dog. Yikes! The successful kindergarten teacher – or parent for that matter – does not fawn over their children; they keep love and discipline in perfect balance. Smothering love is closely related to the next power-sapping element, Accommodation.
In our human lives and roles as wives, girlfriends and mothers, many of us have come to equate accommodation with love. We “accommodate” and clear the sofa for our man when he needs to sit down; we change our schedule around so that we can attend our child’s recital or softball tournament. It’s what we do. All good people, to some degree, accommodate the people they love. It is a good and desirable thing.
Accommodating my staff’s every wish did not endear them to me, but had emboldened them instead
In the animal world, however, accommodation is a form of subtle subordination. When one dog “accommodates” another by giving up his ball, moving out of the way, or backing off when challenged, it is the message of, “You win. I defer to you “. Alone, accommodating incidents are not significant; when accommodation becomes a pattern, however, it can sink a dog’s status and yours, too.
In my own past experience, I found that when I repeatedly accommodated my staff’s requests (extra time off, changing the schedule to accommodate their personal lives, etc.), some started telling me when they would and would not work, refusing to show up when assigned and generally developing a prima donna attitude. Apparently, my pattern of accommodating my staff’s every wish did not endear them to me, but had emboldened them\ instead, and sent the subliminal message that they could control and influence me, and implied that they had more power in the relationship than they actually did.
When your kids beg to stay up later than their bedtime, do you usually give in? When the dog objects to being moved off the sofa, do you let him remain there, on his throne? When employees fail to meet deadlines or complete tasks you’ve assigned, do you give warning after warning…after warning? If you consistently do any of these things, over-accommodation may be cutting your personal power off at the knees, No wonder no one takes you seriously! Your willingness to accommodate is like saying, “Never mind me”. You don’t take yourself seriously, so why should anyone else?
Avoid the Kryptonnite of fidgeting, emotional extremes and excessive accommodation, and you will be amazed at your increased effectiveness!