HYCS #3 – Power, Consulting’s Secret Sauce

If there was one thing I could tell you that would change your practice as a consultant, it’s this:  Power is way cooler than you think it is.

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Word Count:  1023

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Assignment Time: 3 minutes per occurrence

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“I am the great and powerful Oz!”

–The man behind the curtain

Do you remember that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her companions first meet the Wizard, and cower before him?  Such displays of power are meant to awe, and to obscure the truth of the situation.  The truth of the situation is this:  The most powerful person in that room was not the Wizard.  It was Dorothy.

Take a look at how author and consultant H.B. Karp* defines power.

“Power is the ability to get all of what you want from the environment, given what’s available.” 

Because his definition is so revolutionary, he goes on:

  • Power  begins at home – it’s intrapersonal.  This means it requires only you to exercise it fully.  When you fail to get what you want, the question to ask is “How did I stop myself from getting what I want?”
  • The object of power is to get what you want.  This means power is not an end but a process.
  • Realistic expectations are important.  Just because something isn’t available from the environment doesn’t mean you are not powerful.  There is a difference between powerlessness and futility.

Finally, Karp differentiates power from domination.

Power Domination
the object  is to get an end result by expanding what’s available the object  is to bend someone to your will (I win – you lose)
requires only one person requires at least two people
strengthens you and others weakens you and others
creates freedom and individual responsibility creates enslavement and hierarchy

*(adapted from H.B Karp, Personal Power)

Dorothy was the most powerful person in the room because she knew what she wanted, and was willing to work what was available to get it.   That’s how you can be the most powerful person in the room too, no matter who out-ranks you.

Because power is contagious, being comfortable with your power will help put your client in touch with their power.

Consulting happens in the space between what you want, what your client wants, and what’s possible given the constraints you each have to work within. That’s why it’s so critical to find out what your client wants, to know what you want, and to accurately assess what is available in the environment.

Only then can you fully explore what is possible.

Of course, knowing what you want and getting it involves the “V” word:  Vulnerability.  Being vulnerable takes courage.  Dorothy wanted to go home and was brave enough to say so.  What do you want?  How do you feel about putting it out there?  A little exposed, maybe?  Of course you do.  And your client may as well.  That’s what keeps this kind of exchange lively.  You will never be in doubt that you have skin in the game when you are being powerful.  Power is not being invulnerable, like a superhero or a Jedi knight.  It looks more like Dorothy:  Determined, at times discouraged, but all-in, and using all you’ve got.

That’s why we so often settle for domination or its other face, victimization.  These are the same thing:  Both involve hiding your real interests behind a position that keeps you safe and invulnerable.  It also keeps you stuck, like in this story.

Two student chefs, we’ll call them John and Annie, are fighting over an orange they each need for a recipe.  The confrontation is getting so loud and acrimonious the master chef intervenes.

“John, what do you want the orange for?”

“I need the zest for my risotto.”

“Annie, what do you want to orange for?”

“I want the juice for my salad dressing.”

Positions are like an opening bid in an auction:  They get things started, but are rarely where you end up. Positions divide and keep us stuck; interests – what we hope for but may forget to say – provide alternatives that can’t be imagined if we insist on our position.

Every consulting situation starts out just like that:  My client hides what they really want to accomplish by telling me what to do and how to do it.  The position they take does not help me see what they are hoping for.  If I take them at face value, I may fail to explore fully what is possible in the situation.  I assume I am never hearing all of my client’s interests, so I ferret them out.

It’s tempting to hide what I really want until I’m sure it’s safe to bring it up.   That sets a bad example, so I spit them out as soon as I can.  I want us both out in the open, full of power, so I say things like:

  • “I don’t want to make things worse.”
  • “Tell me again why that’s not possible.”
  • “In your position, I’d be feeling pretty nervous right now.”
  •  “I know you are uncomfortable with the tension in the room.  Let’s wait a little longer to intervene.”
  • “I want to intervene directly in your meetings as you work.  That’s the fastest way to make a change in your team.”
  • “Tell me more about why that won’t work.”
  • “I want a bigger say in the planning.”
  • “We don’t have enough time for that approach; here’s what we can do instead.”
  • “I’m getting anxious about the amount of presentation in this meeting.  It’s not going to get us to our outcome.”

Until everyone comes out of hiding, your conversation will be unsatisfying, and your work uninteresting.  Leadership is going first.  Interest your self first.   Come out of hiding first.

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Your assignment this week is simple, but profound.  Notice 1-3 times you don’t get what you want, and ask yourself: “How did I stop myself from getting what I want?

Total self-responsibility is total freedom.  Power requires only you.

Isn’t that cool?