Positional and Personal Power

I first heard the terms Personal Power and Positional Power (sometimes called Professional Power) from Julia Banks, former Federal MP and Author of Power Play.

Positional power is the power that comes from one’s position in an organisation or profession. It’s about where you sit in the hierarchy and the decision-making power you have been given. Think Corporate Leadership, Government, School Principals, Store Owners, Committee Leaders.

By contrast, Personal Power describes the use of one’s personal choices or of their characteristics, charisma, and values to sway influence. The power to resign, walk away, protest or sway.

We actually use this all time in our everyday life. Here’s a fairly tedious and ridiculous use just to paint you a picture:

Customer:  I’m not happy with my meal, I want to speak to the Manager

Manager: I’m actually the Owner, please don’t come back.  (Positional power)

Customer: I’m going to write a terrible review on this place. (Personal power)

Ethical use of Positional Power involves using your position/status/power in a responsible manner that benefits people, the organisation, its stakeholders, and/or society as a whole. You may already use this to ensure others are treated with respect and fairness, maintaining confidentiality when appropriate, avoiding conflicts of interest, and upholding professional standards. On the flip side, unethical use of Positional Power could involve using your position for personal gain at the expense of others.

Using your Personal Power ethically is when you leverage your personal characteristics to positively influence others in a responsible and respectful manner. You could use your charisma, expertise, or other personal qualities to inspire and motivate others, build trust and rapport, and create positive change. Greta Thunberg is a great example of someone who uses their Personal Power ethically. Flip the coin, and the unethical use of Personal Power includes using your charm or persuasion to deceive others, engage in manipulative or coercive behaviour, and use your expertise to mislead or harm others.

The question is, and particularly on International Women’s Day, how can we use our Positional and/or Personal Power to be a force for change?

Leveraging your power on International Women’s Day

There a hundreds of ways to access and use your power for good.  Here are a few:

1. Understand your organisation’s (and team’s) pay gap

Recent changes to legislation means that for companies of 100 people or more, their gender pay gap will become public information. If you are a people leader, understanding your team’s pay equity and engaging your talent team to ensure there is a strong parity strategy for new hires is a great start. Ask questions, advocate for policies and practices that promote equity and flexible working arrangements. Read great case studies including this one from Lion on how to better understand the gender and diverse pay gap in your organisation.

2. Use your personal power to raise awareness

If you’ve got a large social media network, public platform, or influence use your personal power to raise awareness about gender equity issues and highlight the achievements and contributions of women. You can also use your platform to amplify the voices of women who may not have the same visibility and opportunities and help them build their own personal power.

3. Support women-owned businesses

You choose where you shop, where you do your dry cleaning, and who you pay to manage your tax return. So where you can, use your personal power support women-owned businesses. In doing so you help to close the gender pay gap by supporting women’s economic empowerment. If you’re looking for a place to start, Female Owned is a brilliant social enterprise which celebrates and promotes female-owned businesses in Australia.

4. Mentor and sponsor women

If you hold a position of power in your organisation, consider mentoring and sponsoring women to support their career advancement and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. When we raise one person up, we raise the standards for everyone by increasing the representation of women in leadership positions. Never been a mentor before? Check out these great tips on how to mentor from former CNN Productions and PBS president Pat Mitchell.

5. Ask and Listen

People can use their personal power to ask questions, engage, and educate others about gender equity issues. A simple “How can I help? What would be meaningful?” and digesting the response, rather than arriving with ready-made answers, is a starting point to change the conversation.

6. What’s in your Rider?

Over the past few years, actors have made it a norm to ensure pay parity on set as well as diverse representation in storytelling.  How can we apply this to our own careers and industries?

I would love to hear how you are accessing your Positional and Personal Power! Tell us in the comments below.

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