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How can you use your power more effectively?

Updated: Feb 14

To celebrate the launch of our new exercise book on how to promote inclusion in the arts, we’re publishing a series of posts reflecting on leadership practice in the sector. All these posts are modified versions of what’s in the guide, so if you want more info make sure you download it (it’s free!).


In our first post we want to talk about ‘power’:

(As a bonus, we'll also give you a list a behaviours associated with leaders using their power well.)



WHAT IS POWER?

Power is our capacity to impact and influence our environment.


It’s our ability to do things that we want to and to change the world around us. When we use our ‘power’ in the form of seniority in a role, we can give instructions to others and change what happens at work in ways that we expect.


Power can be derived from a wide range of sources such as:

  • expertise: power based on experience, artistic skill, knowledge, level of information and understanding

  • social: power based on social status, money, access to resources, class, race, gender, education, age, health, physical appearance and other things that are valued by mainstream society

  • positional: power based on occupying a formal / legal role within a structure (e.g. artistic director in an arts organisation or project lead on an arts project)

  • personal: power based on personal charm, persuasion, psychological, emotional, social, spiritual and relational abilities (what we use to ‘get by’ in life)

  • contextual or informal: power based on the ability to align with the (often unsaid) norms and values of the group to our advantage (e.g. popularity within a group, degree of belonging we feel when talking with a group of funders)



WHY THINK ABOUT POWER?

There is an increasing recognition that addressing power imbalances is about more than leaders having good people skills or following codes of conduct and HR policies. Using ‘power’ well is about our everyday behaviours at work – our everyday relationships with our colleagues and the communities we work with and for. Leaders are facing increased scrutiny over whether they can create equitable organisations. There is an increasing expectation that leaders will help to create places where diversity can flourish and is valued and not environments where people are marginalised and feel psychologically unsafe. Younger generations in particular are demanding more from workplaces in this regard.


If the arts sector is to continue to be a place where our diverse society wants to work and develop, then we will need to ensure that we are adapting to these new expectations.


Much of this boils down to how leaders personally think about and use their power.



USING YOUR POWER WELL

Power can be used well or not well.


For example, we can use our artistic expertise and knowledge on a subject to help our team make the best decision, or, on the other hand, we can use that power to just make sure we sound like the smartest person in the room. We can use our contextual power – our insider status within an arts collaborative – to help new starters from minoritized backgrounds to connect with the work, or we can use that insider status to stay in the comfort of our inner circle. Using power well is about creating psychologically safe places at work. In these spaces, people feel like they can speak up and share what they are thinking and feeling. People feel they can express and be themselves. They are respected. They can bring their full creative selves to the workplace or to the creative process.


Using power well requires three key elements.


First, we need to be aware of the types of power we have in different contexts. Second, we need to recognise the impact that our power has on us and on others. The third building block is behaviour. We need to try and behave based on our awareness of the first two building blocks.



In the exercise book, we offer some questions, tips, and reflections to help you understand the first two elements. Let’s focus for now on the third part: your behaviour.


In this video, leadership development guru Julie Diamond outlines some of the behaviours associated with leaders using power well:



Here, for reference, is a list of behaviours associated with using power well that she shares in the talk:



SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT...

If you’re the leader of an arts organisation, have a look at the list above.

  • are there any other ways you judge effective use of power with colleagues, volunteers or trustees?

  • write down one or two items from the list, or others that you want to work on or improve

  • find somebody to hold you to account in the moment/feedback on your use of power after two months


 

Remember, this is just a flavour of the ideas and resources in the full exercise book. There's a lot more to power than we can outline in a blog post. Make sure you download the full guide so you can get the lowdown on:

  • different types of power

  • how to recognise your own power and privilege

  • understanding different approaches to using your power effectively to promote equity and social justice

  • using your power to progress anti-racism


Download the full guide here.


If you have any questions, comments, or feedback drop us a line here.

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