With Great Power Comes…?


In your work life, your personal life, and in your community, how will you use power as a force for good, and empower those around you in specific acts that make up your day?
Dacher Keltner

A Question of Power

The whole idea that I have power to use is relatively new to me. I spent 40 years believing I needed permission to act in the world: permission from my parents, my teachers, my bosses, my ex-husband, and even some days my children. Accepting that not only do I have power, but that I have the responsibility to choose how to wield it and the capacity to use it to serve the greater good has been a journey.

These days, I accept that I have power and responsibility. I am still discerning how most effectively to use my power for the greater good.

My Contribution to the Greater Good

For the past 5 years, I have been cultivating myself as a coach. In this role, I stand beside and behind my clients and empower them to use their power in the world. I help them tame their demons. I support them as they walk through their fear and shame to the glory that lies just on the other side of risk. I bolster their capacity for self-love and their ability to hold strong boundaries. And, I help them find the courage within to risk exposing their soft spots in service of their goals.

At the CTI Toronto Holiday Party this week, I spoke with Karlee Vukets about the struggles I have been having discerning exactly where to put my business-building efforts for 2017. She reminded me that I had once described the sweet spot of my coaching as “helping people have hard conversations.” It was one of those moments when a coach simply reflects back what someone said and the original speaker hears it for the first time.

It is true. I help people have hard conversations. You know the ones. The ones where there is already conflict or opening the conversation will probably create conflict. The ones where the stakes are high: will I get the raise or make this sale, will this make my partner leave me, or will I blow my chance at a date? The ones where we really care about the outcome or are worried about hurting the feelings of someone we love.

It isn’t all that I do. But it is the sweet spot in the middle, the creamy centre.

Concrete Actions

The morning after talking with Karlee, I had the pleasure of speaking with Nancy Seibel of Keys to Change about what leadership requires of us. Nancy’s work with the Department of Hope is an amazing project with the goal of spreading the tools for cultivating hope through the world.

As we spoke, it became clear that the world needs more people who know how to have the kinds of conversations I support. I want to step into greater visibility and leadership around teaching people how to have these hard conversations. And there are several ways I might do this.

To date, I have primarily been doing my work through one-on-one conversations. There is power in gathering larger groups of people that I want to harness. I also am sensing value in having these conversations in public.

The podcast that I have started planning is one way I plan to have these conversations in public. I have other ideas as well. One step at a time. This is about planting seeds and sending ripples out into the world. It doesn’t all need to happen tomorrow.

Empowering Others

I have explicitly wanted to change the world for as long as I can remember. For a long time, I thought that meant I had to pick a specific social justice issue to devote all my time and energy to. I was a gay rights activist for a while, then an advocate for battered women, then arguing for expansive definitions of fair use in copyright law to support artists and cultural growth, and so on and so forth.

But that approach never worked. I got bored or burned out or both.

And now I know why. My role is not primarily to be fighting for specific policy changes. My role is to change the way these struggles are undertaken. My role is to help people learn how to stay connected to the humanity within the people they disagree with or need things from. My role is to empower other people to do their work more effectively.


This is part of Quest 2017, a 12-prompt process for annual planning. The prompt was provided by Dacher Keltner, founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

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