There is a fine line between unacceptable behavior and personal power. And trying to figure out how best to persuade others to respect your point of view is frustrating. Every day we see people on TV screaming at police officers, berating people, and intimidating innocents. Most of the time it’s shouting, but sometimes it is violent. And almost always it’s ineffective.
All around us we see examples of the loss of personal power. Parents fail in communicating with their children. People with authority abuse their power. Nations dominate each other. One group believes everyone, except them, is wrong. They scream, shout, bark like dogs, threaten each other, and riot. And the result of their effort is they bring their causes to a standstill. And they lose the respect of people outside their issue. Ultimately, they lose their position of being seen as empowered.
“Power perceived is power achieved.” — Brad Thor, The Athena Project
What is power perceived?
When you, by your actions, thoughts, and deeds, become an influencer that changes people’s minds, you have power.
The Marine Corps is a good example of power perceived. It’s undeniable that Marines exude confidence, capability, and resolve. Through repeated training and constant affirmations, they believe there is no mission too difficult for them. And it shows through their bearing and the look on their faces.
My first tour of duty was at a small airbase in the middle east. The locals didn’t appreciate our being there. Tensions rose until there was a problem with a few hundred armed citizens surrounding us. Their military then took part by firing canons over our base through the night and lining up artillery and heavy weapons outside our gates. It was intimidating, but it wasn’t effective.
To help resolve things, a Marine detachment assigned to the base came to our support. Dressed in full battle gear and heavily armed, they looked ready and capable to deal with the situation. They dug foxholes and set up machine-gun emplacements. The next day, the civilians went home. The local military pulled back their equipment. And the Marines stood down. Situation resolved.
What the Marines accomplished was creating a perception of power. They did not scream or threaten. They did not bark like dogs. Their presence and reputation changed the situation. The civilians and military didn’t want a fight. What they wanted was to show their unhappiness.
What changed the protestors’ and military people’s minds? For some, it was seeing our resolve that made them leave. But for most of the people, it was the appearance of the hardened look on the Marines’ faces that made them believe with absolute certainty that they would die if they didn’t cease and desist. We presented a position of power perceived. And once power is perceived by a person, group, military, or country, as real, it is power achieved.
But there is a backstory to the event. What the protestors and local military leaders didn’t know was we were under orders not to engage. Our political and military leaders did not want the situation to become an international incident. Our orders were to present a show of force and nothing more. But the protestors didn’t know our restraints. They perceived the Marines had power and the willingness to use it, and it caused them to back off their position and go home. The lesson learned is, even though they were in no real danger, their perception of potentially grave harm to them was all it took for them to retreat.
Do you have personal power?
You have the power to influence the people around you. So the more influence you have on others, the greater your personal power.
One of the greatest ways to increase your power is through networking. There is an adage that says, “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know.” Business people practice this motto every day. Politicians live and die by it. Ministers use it. And you use it even though you might not think of it that way.
The other day, I cooked dinner for my wife. I’m not a cook, so it was a challenge. I read the recipe and decided I could make it. But I needed a few things from the store. One item was “heavy cream”. I’d never heard of it. I wandered around the store and couldn’t find it. So I asked a woman shopper if she could help me. While I was talking to her, another woman stopped to help. And then a third woman offered to show me where to find it. I wound up talking to all three women about how I was making dinner but had no experience. They asked questions and gave me tips. They wanted to help me succeed. That is a simple example of networking. I had a cause — finding heavy cream. I elicited some help — attracted a team. And then I told them about my cause — gaining support. Each of them knew more about heavy cream than I did, and they gave me suggestions on using it better.
If you have a worthwhile cause that other people can relate to then you have personal power over them.
To increase your personal power, you need to surround yourself with people who want to help you achieve your goal.
How to use your personal power
Once you have personal power you want to use it wisely, or you’ll lose it. And once it’s gone, it’s hard to replace it.
I was watching the news, and a story came up about a protest. I didn’t catch what was being protested because a bunch of people barking distracted me. Someone was speaking on a street corner. People surrounded him and barked to silence him. It was ridiculous and embarrassing to see adults acting out. They thought they were silencing an opposing view, but they lost their personal power, and my respect, in the effort.
Gaining personal power takes effort. People won’t give you their respect because you can bark loud, or scream, or chant all to silence another view. Give someone a reason to follow you, and they will.
A modern example of having massive personal power is Martin Luther King, Jr. Other people had worked to improve civil rights, but it was King who brought massive numbers of people together. And he did it by preaching non-violence. He didn’t resort to intimidation, fear, threats, screams, or barking. He achieved his personal power by working with civic leaders of his day to bring about change.
If you want to influence people, you must develop your personal power. It doesn’t happen overnight. Some people abuse it. I think first of Adolf Hitler, who could have changed the world positively. Instead, he murdered millions and wrecked nations. Other people use it for good. I mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. And there are talented women. Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, all affected their world.
Why use screaming, shouting, intimidation, threats, or barking when you can use your personal power to change your world?
How have you used your personal power?