"With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" -- Uncle Ben

Thank Uncle Ben in Spider Man for making this quote so popular.  It is poignant.  It is unfortunately rare that people honor that axiom.

I'm running home from a beautiful trail run at Tiger Mountain this morning, feeling strong.  I had the intention when I went out that I would move for 2 hours, 30 minutes and not stop on the climbs.  I ended the run and I felt powerful, accomplished, and grateful.  On the drive home I turned on my local NPR station and listened to Dalcher Keltner being interviewed about his book, The Power Paradox.  It got me thinking about power as a leader.

What is the Power Paradox?  As we experience elevated power or rise in the social status ladder, we are more likely to lie, cheat, steal, be disrespectful to others and violate traffic rules—acts that significantly reduce our capacity for influence. 

When we gain power we lose empathy.   However, the very act of gaining power was exactly because of our empathy.  Power accrues to those individuals that listen, engage, give, and contribute to a greater good.  But then when that power is achieved, we tend to lose the empathy and think more inwardly about ourselves and retaining that power.  The research bears this out on many levels and we see it all around us in everyday abuse of power.

Great leaders are those that find the ability to maintain empathy as their power elevates.  We aren't wired to do that so how can we consciously acknowledge the empathy equation as our power elevates in our company's and in our community.  Try these 5 techniques:

  1. Listen More -- Your mouth to ear ratio should drive your behavior.  How many times are you just waiting for someone to stop speaking so you can make your point.  Slow down.  Really listen and try to understand without formulating your response prematurely.
  2. Smile at People -- Have you ever noticed how the the anxiety in a room just dissipates when you smile and show your warmth authentically.  Try it and you will see the positive non verbal response from those around you.
  3. Stop Looking at Your Phone -- When you look at your phone during a discussion you are implying that what is coming over digitally is more important than the conversation in the moment.  Challenge yourself to put the phone away and be present.
  4. Give Recognition -- If you want the most out of your team then let them know when they are making progress.  Acknowledgement from people in power gives people the encouragement to push further, the confidence to take risk, and the conviction to act. 
  5. Have Deeper Discussions -- We're all busy.  I get that.  It's easy to keep a conversation surface so you can get to the next meeting.  But what if you leaned in and asked a question at a layer deeper than just the content you're hearing.  What's underlying what you are hearing?  Probe it?  We all build layers to protect ourselves from our true feeling.  When you show that you can tap into it with people around you they will be grateful.

Empathy is not just tactical.  It has to come from a position of authenticity.  But the five behaviors above can start flexing that muscle that many of you had at one point, but maybe suppressed as your power grew.  

I got off the mountain today, stopped for a second, looked around at the snow drifting from the trees, listened to the wind whipping through canyons, and grateful for the gift of good health.