Personal Power

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The concept of “power” is tossed around a lot in today’s culture. She has power over him. They were disempowered. I don’t have the power to speak my mind.

Too often, we accept statements such as these as factual. She, in fact, does has power over him. But that’s a disempowered way of viewing the situation; a more powerful way would be to ask: what does he need to do to generate the personal power to stand up for himself?

My goal as a coach—is to coach my clients to generate and master their power.

If we don’t generate power, we become victims. People who see themselves as victims tend not to live joyful or fulfilling lives, while those who generate power do.

So how do you generate your personal power?

Force, Authority, and Power

The first step to generating power is to bring greater precision to our understanding of the word. In my coaching, I separate “force” and “authority” from power.

Force is the capability to coerce someone into taking an action. When a thug pulls a gun and demands your wallet, that thug is using force. Force is distinct from power in that you are physically compelled to take an action.

Authority is the socially approved capacity to direct another’s actions. Authority usually comes from a position or office, such as a governor, supervisor, policeman, or judge. Your boss has the authority to tell you to do certain tasks—if you refuse, he/she has the authority to fire you.  Authority often has the social right to enforce its directives with force. If you defy a court order, for example, the court can order the police to put cuffs on you force you to comply.

Authority is not power. Indeed, many people in positions of authority are not powerful.

So what is power?

Power is the ability to produce the results you want in your life. It is entirely self-generated. No one can give it to you and no one can take it away from you. Being powerful does not mean that you can determine or control your circumstances—no person, regardless of their power, can stop the rain from falling. But a powerful person can choose to respond more resourcefully than a less powerful one: dancing in the rain instead of throwing a tantrum.

Giving Away Power

If you feel that someone else is more powerful than you—say you think the other is dominating, manipulative, or using a cultural narrative against you—and compelling you to act against your wishes, you are giving away your power.

You can only be dominated if you are dominatable or manipulated if you are manipulatable. A cultural narrative can only be used against you if you believe in and submit to it.

Putting the locus of power outside yourself is the essence of disempowering yourself. Another person (without authority or force) can only compel you to act against your wishes when you give up your power—when you submit to them.


When you give up your power, you make yourself a victim. There are a thousand different ways that we make ourselves victims. Examples:

  • He made me mad
  • He made me late
  • The rain ruined my day
  • I did it because I was worried about what others would think
  • I have to be perfect
  • It wasn’t a safe space; things were said that I disagreed with
  • I can’t ask for a raise; the boss will think I’m selfish

The benefit of making yourself a victim is that you don’t have to be responsible for yourself. He/she/they/God did it to me. 

Giving up responsibility is the ultimate surrender of power. Remember, power is the capacity to produce the results you want in your life (given circumstances beyond your control). Victims, by definition, do not create the results they want.

Generating Power

When you notice that you are buckling to another person’s demands, the question to ask is what do I need to do to stay true to myself?

That question—what do I need to do—is the foundational root of power. You are accepting that power starts with you.

This is difficult stuff. It is not easy to hold your ground in the face of dominating or manipulative personalities or to step out of a cultural narrative that has been hammered into you since birth. If it were easy, fewer people would retreat into victimhood.

But taking responsibility for generating your power is the first step to power.


Fear stops us from stepping into power. Fear that we will fail, that we will look foolish, that we will be rejected or cast out of the tribe, that we will be unmasked, or that we will be dominated. Note that our fear comes from fearing our feelings. Absent force or authority, the only reason we give up our power is to avoid painful feelings.

Painful feelings can dump us into emotional hells that can last for weeks. But if neither force nor authority is used against us, it is fear of feeling uncomfortable that sabotages us; that strips us of our power.

Unless you give up on life and spend the rest of it sitting on the sofa, fear will always be with you. If you wait until it goes away, you will wait forever.

The second step to generating power is to build your courage to act despite your fear.


In the center of our being, we have a story about ourselves—about who we are. For most of us, this story is some flavor of “something is wrong with me.”


  • I am not good enough
  • I am not loveable
  • I don’t belong
  • I am a fraud (or imposter)
  • I am not worthy
  • I am weak
  • I am ugly

The list is endless—but regardless of which variation you have, the consequence of the story is that you are ashamed of who you are.

Shame is, perhaps, our most searingly painful feeling. To avoid it, we hide those parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of. When we venture out into the world hiding parts of ourselves—putting up a pretense, being inauthentic—we become brittle and defensive; nothing else so effectively strips us of our power.

We cannot stand up for ourselves when we stand in a quagmire of shame.

Giving up our shame, accepting ourselves for who we are, and recognizing our common humanity is the third step to power. Power comes from having nothing to hide.

 Survival vs. Essence

Survival and essence are coaching terms for ego and compassion or fear and love. When we act out of survival, our goal is to be right, get our way, acquire status or material goods.

When we act out of essence, we act with empathy, acceptance, compassion, and love.

When we act from survival, we sabotage our power. If we have to be right or to get our way, we are fighting for results that don’t fulfill us, that do not bring us joy or connection. We may “win” but we have lost.

The fourth step to power is to give up acting from survival and to grow into your essence.


As a coach, I am far more interested in a client’s being or character—taking responsibility, building courage, and stepping past shame—than in teaching skills. But skills are important. To be powerful it helps immensely to have good communication skills, to know how to negotiate, or to defuse a conflict. These techniques can be learned from books however, they can only be used effectively when a person has mastered the four steps outlined above.


Finally, power doesn’t come by just thinking about it. You need to go out into the world and put yourself into situations that push you to the outer fringes of your comfort zone, to go as you can—and then take one more step. (Excellent example of practicing stepping beyond your comfort zone).

And do it again.

With each step you take, you will build your power.