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June 12, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Claim your power at work

Every human relationship involves power. Whether we are at home, out with friends or on the job, a sense of empowerment contributes to our well-being and self-respect.

Do you feel that you don’t have much power, especially at work? Good news: You do, no matter where you stand in a hierarchy. Think about where power comes from, and you will see the source of yours.

Power based on whom you know. Do you have a strong network? You are a connector (knowing who to introduce to whom), and a resource (knowing where to go for advice and help). This power grows exponentially — the more people you know, the more people will want to know you.

Power based on what you know. The most competent person in the room, the one who knows how things work and how to fix them when they don’t, is a very powerful person. Is that you?

Power based on love. Do people want to do things for you just because they like you? You’ve got charisma. Charisma is usually inborn — you didn’t do anything to earn it, and you may even start to think you deserve it — so it’s a responsibility. Try combining it with, say, expertise.

Power based on admiration. Like charisma, admiration inspires loyalty, but it is something you can earn. If you have an amazing work ethic; if you are responsible, reliable and consistent; and if you treat colleagues well, people will admire you and listen to you. That’s power, baby.

Power based on fear. If you are in a position to punish, you have power. But take care: Fear-based power can easily twist around and bite you. In fact, this power is usually best used by not using it (“speak softly and carry a big stick”).

Power based on possession of what others want. Do you set the schedule or control access to supplies? You have power. The downside? This power goes away the minute you are no longer in a position to bestow largess.

Power based on position. You are the boss, the most obvious source of power. But remember: A bad boss quickly loses influence, leverage and respect. So be a leader worthy of the power you hold.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career advancement, communication, relationships

Blog contributors

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.


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