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In a recent interview with Stanford Insights, Stanford psychologist Deborah Gruenfeld, author of the new book " Acting with Power," suggested we all look at power wrong. And that misunderstanding hinders our leadership success.
Power isn't about how you feel — how confident you are or how strong you appear. It's about how other people see you. And that's why people who are truly perceived as powerful aren't focused on themselves, but on the people around them.
"Move your attention off yourself," Gruenfield advised as the first step to powerful leadership, adding that this is how professional actors stay in the moment and build charisma. "Focus very intentionally on the other person in the scene, not on the audience."
Once you've focused on the other person: "Define your social objective," she continued. Powerful leaders tailor all of their actions to how they want the other person to react or feel in order to get the results they want.
"Keep your focus on what you are trying to accomplish, and define it in terms of the other person. Do you want the person to trust your expertise and authority? Do you want the person to feel understood? Try to take actions in the moment that will affect others in the way you hope. And understand that your choices will help you accomplish some objectives while hindering others."
If this "acting" for others feels inauthentic, that's OK and even preferable in many cases, according to Gruenfield.
"I’m more committed to the idea of being responsible than authentic — my authentic self can be insecure at times, whereas my responsible self has to be a source of security for others," she said. "It’s a choice to get out of your head and stay in touch with social reality."
In other words, being strategic in your communication isn't a bad thing — it's your responsibility as a good leader. That's your official permission to take up this tactic as soon as possible.
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