Power is a word that conjures up mixed emotions. When you think of the word power, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
When I think of power, I immediately hear the phrase “someone who makes things happen.” When I think of powerful people I know personally, I think of many people I know who make things happen while making a difference to people. For most of them, it’s part of the day job, and it's fundamental to who they are as human beings.
It’s unfortunate, then, that we have to witness the power struggles taking place at the highest echelons of government and business. When I read the news, I feel like I’m peering over the wall of a primary school playground, except that I'm witnessing the antics of supposed adults.
Children can be more readily forgiven for their behaviour. They are, after all, still learning. Our leaders, on the other hand, should know better. Maybe they need to go back to school. They certainly need to learn how to lead!
Do you need to know about the latest playground spat between the so-called leaders of your country? Do you need to know about the leadership defections, based on a mismatch of values? Do you need to know about clandestine plans for mutiny, like the plot by Unite to destroy the Labour Party? Do you need to know about British MPs calling companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook to account for their complicity in distributing hate material and child pornography?
The truth is, you do.
I’ve heard many say that you should turn off your television, stop reading newspapers and check out of the drama that is currently unfolding before our eyes. I understand the aim this sentiment is trying to achieve, namely to help you stay positive and free from the effect of dramas over which you seemingly have no control.
You might believe that by tuning out, you can absolve yourself of responsibility. However, consider what Moliere, the 17th century French playwright, had to say about this very issue:
“It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.”
What does he mean by that? Allow me to use a real-life example to illustrate the point.
Last week, State Street Global Advisors staged a publicity stunt to highlight the lack of diversity in the financial services sector. The company commissioned a sculpture, called Fearless Girl, of a young girl in defiant pose and placed it in front of the famous Bull in Manhattan’s Financial District. For more information, read here
It served a purpose in that it highlighted the problem and received exposure across the world, but did it change anything?
Perhaps it was a call to the future leaders to face the bulls in finance head-on. I understand the sentiment. I understand that State Street wants to position itself as a trailblazer in gender equality. I know that generating media coverage is good for business, having worked in marketing for many years. Finally, I can see that it’s a little ray of light in a fairly bleak media landscape.
But, it had me wonder what it is about women that has us need to perpetuate the myth of vulnerability. More specifically, what is it that is so threatening about feminine power in its fullness that led women leaders to use the image of a young girl rather than a fully grown woman in meeting the bull face-to-face, toe-to-toe to demand gender equality in business RIGHT NOW?
The use of a girl rather than a woman raises serious questions in my mind. Are women so overwhelmed by the challenge of creating gender equality in business that we’re prepared to leave it to our daughters? Are women operating from the belief that true gender equality is not possible in our lifetime? Have women been reduced to making token gestures that gain media coverage but perpetuate the narrative of women being weak?
I personally found the image quite creepy and delved a little deeper. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I felt it important to raise your attention to the symbolism that is being portrayed here. In ancient traditions, people sacrificed their children, both girls and boys, to the bull-headed god Moloch in Carthage, as reported by Greco-Roman scholars.
As a former psychotherapist with a particular penchant for Jungian archetypal psychology, I fully understand the power that these images hold in our collective psyches, in our DNA, even. I can’t say whether this image was accidental or intentional by the originators of the idea, but I can say that it’s rather unfortunate.
Personally, I am not willing throw the next generation to slaughter at the feet of a false god who demands flesh and blood sacrifices. Are you?
At this point, I return to Moliere’s quote and ask you to dive deep by considering these questions:
- Are you allowing yourself or another to be bullied, or are you engaging in bullying behaviour?
- Are you colluding with harassment or are you harrassing another?
- Are you staying with a company whose values don’t match yours?
- Are you sticking your head in the sand, attempting to ignore reality?
- Are you exercising discernment in personal, professional and public interactions?
- Are you taking things at face value when you could be investigating at a deeper level?
- Are you using your mental faculties to their fullest to question what you’re being offered?
- Are you able to follow your intuition, especially when it tells you something is not quite right?
- Are you willing to stand for your values, even if you risk ridicule?
If these questions push one or several uncomfortable buttons in you, then I’d like to make a suggestion. Take the image and use your imagination to put yourself in the place of the little girl, whether you’re a woman or man. Notice how it feels to stand in front of a powerful creature like a bull. Adopt different physical stances, emotional states and mental attitudes, playing with the image in your imagination until you find something that feels empowering. Make a note of what you discover.
Completing this exercise will provide you with two keys to your power: 1) the knowledge that you are powerful, and 2) the source of your power.
In my reimagining of this publicity stunt, I would have placed a fully-grown woman in front of the bull, looking it squarely in the eye. I would have been courageous enough to put a stake in the ground that I am not deferring gender equality to future generations. Instead, I am taking a stand right now, and by doing so, I am encouraging and empowering other people, both men and women, right now, to do the same, and I am paving the way for our sons and daughters to build upon the path I've created.
It’s time to rewrite the narrative of gender equality in business. In fact, it’s time to rewrite the narrative of equality in business full-stop. You are the author of your own life, but you're more than that. You are the architect of humanity's future. Your actions will determine whether you end up a victim or a hero. If you want to be a hero, you have to fully face down the demons, inside and out, starting with the demon that tells you you're powerless.
Whether you want to admit it or not, the truth is you are powerful, more powerful than you can imagine. To exercise the full weight of your power, you have got to give up the belief that you are inherently vulnerable. Living as a powerful person enables you to live by your values, regardless of what other people say or think of you. You must insist that your demands be heard, respected and granted. To do that, YOU must hear, respect and grant your own demands first.
When you choose to accept full responsibility for your power, you become an unstoppable force for brilliance. In short, you become a genuine trailblazer, not merely a publicity seeker.
So, hero or victim — how will your story unfold?
The Brilliance™ Trailblazer: Leadership for the New Millennium
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