You might be first-line supervision or midlevel in your organization, and you might also be a high-potential or high-performing leader. You are an accomplished person who’s worked your way to get where you are by using significant talents.
Yet, as gifted as you might be, sometimes you might feel powerless. The larger organization asks a lot of you. Expectations are high, and you must continually find a way to navigate the politics, bureaucracy and naysayers while staying strong and committed to your work.
Does this sound like you? If so, you might not be fully aware of the times that powerlessness grips you. Watch for these signs in your thoughts and words.
“There is nothing I (we) can do about it”: There is always something you can do, even if it means to consciously choose to not let something get under your skin. What choices can you personally make about how you’ll feel about a situation?
“It’s his (hers, their) fault we’re not able to move ahead”: While there might be some truth here, you might also have a role to play. What can you do even in the face of “their fault”?
“I’m bailing out”: My personal favorite. It’s all too easy to bail and go somewhere else, but consider what it might mean to stay and make a difference by catalyzing and leading important changes.
Remember that there is always something you can do. It might mean changing your mind about the situation, looking at it differently, asking others how they can help or recognizing that you feel powerless and letting go of your need to control something that you can’t.
Take responsibility: Acknowledge that you might be playing a victim role, and take on an attitude of “What can I do?” This question can free you from chains that hold you in place. If you think broadly enough about it, you’ll realize that your personal attitude, filters, emotions or thoughts come into play here. Changing the way you view yourself in relationship to the situation can be freeing.
Enlist the help of others: You don’t need to be alone in this. Ask for help from trusted advisers. Test your assumptions about the situation that’s making you feel powerless by asking others what they think. Don’t be defensive about what you can’t do — instead, listen and consider ideas suggested by trustworthy colleagues. Stay open to seeing things another way, and you might find a way forward.
Let go: This truly is the hidden secret to freedom from feeling powerless, and it’s the hardest for control-oriented leaders to do. Letting go requires deep thinking and (sometimes) a lot of time to feel the liberation of realizing that the thing that’s making you feel helpless is gripping you in an unhealthy way. You might see that the clutch of this thing is overbearing and not worth your energy. Then, you need to decide to let it go and accept whatever outcome that causes.
Leaders who take back their power by choosing to think or act differently about a situation that they feel they can’t control might find that they’ve freed up emotional space to focus on things that are most important to them and their organizations.
You have more power than you might think. You have the power to choose how you view a situation, rather than feel victimized.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past decade as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.