I’m so glad this book exists. In a sea of leadership books based on shallow definitions of power, Power A User’s Guide dives refreshingly deep: author Julie Diamond KNOWS about power.
Over the past few years, the discourse surrounding leadership has finally come to recognise the importance of personal development: that never ending journey that starts with the realisation that humans are complex beings, with fears, needs, histories and hopes for the future, not algorithmic automatons, as so many self help and leadership books seem to assume.
If I sound a little bitter, I am. So much harm is done from viewing humans in a simplistic, mechanistic and reductionist way and from thinking we can ignore our past without consequence. But, this is a book review, not a revolutionary rally cry, so I will stay focused.
I love this book and I don’t know how to do it justice in a review. Diamond not only unfolds the complexity of “what is power” in a well researched, personable and accessible manner (not easy for such a complex topic), she also invites the reader to consider their own past and how it impacts on their current relationship with, and use of, power.
Using power well depends on becoming aware of our behaviour, and of those often-unconscious feelings that drive it: beliefs, fears, and attitudes.
Diamond also breaks down how and why good people find themselves misusing power, challenging fondly held stereotypes that only monsters, narcissists, sociopaths and the like misuse power, not nice normal folk like you and me. She explores the means, motive and opportunity conditions that breed power misuse:
We think narcissists are drawn to high-ranking roles to indulge their disorder. But research shows power bestows disinhibition.
But before you pack yourself off to hell in a hand basket, she goes on to share grounded, realistic recommendations to minimise these risks. This alone makes it a must read for anyone in a position of power, whether you be a parent, line manager, boss, therapist, teacher, police officer, facilitator, older brother/sister etc. Most people, whether they recognise it or not, will be in situations where they have more power than others, even if only briefly. But because power is blinding, we often don’t see it, which is just one of the reasons we are vulnerable to misusing it.
The more powerful we feel, the better we use our power; conversely, the less powerful we feel, the greater chance we’ll misuse power.
This is one of the main focuses in my Power Workshops, how to notice and connect with the powers you already have but don’t recognise, so you can not only make better use of them, but reduce your risk of unconsciously using them against others.
Another risk Diamond explores is how frequently the more power you have, the less scrutiny you are under, and therefore more vulnerable to your own unconscious needs, leading you to misuse that power.
Power provides us with opportunities: access to money, people, information, and resources. Along with these perks, we have greater freedom to act, but often with less supervision or oversight. This deadly cocktail of opportunity and immunity creates a constant conflict of interest.
CEOs and politicians might be the first to come to mind, but this is equally applicable to parents, teachers, police officers, therapists etc, and is evident across dynamics of social oppression (think race, gender, sexuality etc).
Section III of Power A User’s Guide walks the reader through 14 Guidelines for Power, each with doable practice to help you integrate and relate the content to your own life – so it’s not just an interesting read; it offers real tools for real insight.
But the best bit, in my opinion, is the extensive “Find Your Powerprint” exercise in the appendix. It walks you through a detailed exploration of the different kind of socio-political, positional, informal, historical and personal power characteristics you have (or don’t’ have). This culminates in your Powerprint Story, a refined summary of where your greatest strengths lay, and your challenges, what situations you feel most and least powerful in, what situations trigger you and therefore make you more vulnerable to misusing power, and what powers you tend to take for granted. These are the most valuable nuggets of self awareness you’ll ever discover.
Without a solid foundation in personal power, you are at the mercy of others’ judgement, popular sentiment, and social norms – all of which fluctuate from moment to moment, and all of which lie outside your control.
So two thumbs for a grounded, well-researched, inspiring, and sorely needed guide to using power. Follow the link (not an affiliate) to buy a copy of a Power A User’s Guide, or check out our confidence building workshop page to see if we have a Power Workshop coming up.
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
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