This is a special episode of my podcast “Leadership is the Competitive Advantage.” I am really happy to host my first English-speaking guest Julie Diamond. Julie is an international executive coach and leadership consultant who has a huge passion for understanding the phenomenon of power. She is an author of three books, the latest being Power: A User’s Guide (soon available also in Estonian!). I am grateful for having this opportunity to talk to her about different aspects of power — how to use power to influence, impact and foster growth and change in the world around us.
“One of the things that has always puzzled and fascinated me is how quickly people sink into the feelings of being disempowered. Something happens to you and you suddenly feel deeply threatened which, in turn, causes your rank to drop. What I have discovered is that when we experience a momentary lapse into low rank, whether as a result of somebody criticising us in public, verbally attacking us or us being under a great deal of stress, it is so easy to loose sight of your high ranking role and your responsibilities and just respond from that low rank emotional state.
One of the examples I have given about this exact situation is when Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP, could not handle his emotions when the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform exploded in 2010. That disaster claimed 11 lives and spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, causing massive environmental, economic and social destruction. Shortly after the event, Hayward caused an uproar when he said that while the event disrupted the lives of residents near the Gulf, it was also taking a toll on his personal life. ‘I’d like my life back,’ he said at the time, putting his discomfort into forefront, thus precipitating a PR nightmare for his company and, ultimately, his own resignation. Hayward sunk into a low-rank feeling right at the moment when he should have been most mindful of his high-ranking role. This is why, under stress, attack and significant pressure, the force of low rank clouds our ability to stay mindful of our high-ranking role.
From an evolutionary standpoint, low rank is a matter of life and death. You could be killed, hurt or eaten. It is a classic fight, flight or freeze moment. When the amygdala in the limbic system — in our so-called emotional brain — perceives a threat, it can lead that person to react irrationally and destructively. A critical comment, challenging remark or stressful event can trigger the same reaction as a charging tiger in the wildlife. The amygdala sends signals that flood us with hormones, activating our automatic responses. This emotional brain activity processes information milliseconds earlier than the rational brain, so the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the neocortex, our so-called ‘thinking brain’, can be received.
But the good news is that whether we allow amygdala ‘hijack’ our emotional state or not is ultimately up to us. Power is a feeling, and therefore can be effectively managed by learning the essential emotional skills.” — Julie Diamond
Listen and enjoy!