Melissa Viviane Jefferson, aka Lizzo, has a sweet, joyful, tenacious disposition. Thanks to an inordinate amount of musical talent and the popularity of her self-affirming songs, she also has power and influence. A lot of power and influence.
And she’s using it.
Last month, the musical artist we all know and love as Lizzo pledged $500k from her upcoming “Special” tour to a couple of organizations that support women. But wait, there’s more.
Next, she approached her tour partner, Live Nation, and asked them to match her pledge. They agreed, bringing the total donated to these women’s organizations to one million dollars.
Now, I know we’re not all Lizzo strong, but we all wield power and influence in our own lives both personally and professionally. Whether it’s with one or two people or thousands, we all have some measure of influence.
Some of us know it. We have worked hard to reach that level in our careers where people actually listen to our ideas, value our opinions, need our wisdom and experience. Others, who are just starting out, are just beginning to see and understand how our attitudes and actions alter those of the people around us.
Such an exciting time, n’est-ce pas?
No matter where we are on that spectrum, Lizzo’s actions remind us to ask ourselves if we are using these benefits of leadership wisely. Are we using our power generously to help those who are less powerful in the workplace, such as women and traditionally marginalized groups?
Could we be doing more? Could we be doing it in smarter, more public ways that encourage our partners and colleagues to leverage their power and influence too? With her bold, decisive action, Lizzo found a meaningful way to use her power and influence to support and empower others who could really use a boost. What did her action teach us? I can think of five things …
5 Steps to Leverage Your Power Now
For power to matter, we have to use it
After years of hard work, many of us have achieved influence within our organizations. We wield our power on a day-to-day basis to get the job done. But what if we could do more? What if we could also be making a difference for those who don’t have a voice? Could we make our organizations even stronger by building others up as well? Yes, we could. And we should.
Think about the people, ideas, and projects you believe in that have a buzz, an energy, around them. Exciting initiatives. Opportunities to grow. You probably think nothing of stepping in to help them take flight.
Now think about the policies, processes, procedures that tend to hold women and marginalized workers back—like lack of childcare, insufficient training, or weak partner benefits. Those are opportunities calling out for someone with leverage, someone like you, to give them a boost.
Now put the projects and the people together. What policy changes could you champion to give underrepresented coworkers the chance to participate in the most exciting projects? Look for opportunities to step in, speak up, propose new policies, and open doors.
Power is like a magnet, it draws others in
Organizational power increases in strength when it is used. When we leverage our power – at scale – to positively impact the lives and careers of others in our organizations, it creates a culture where everyone can flourish and grow. In that kind of a culture, we all feel like we have an important role to play in moving the organization forward.
Let’s just say I’m a Senior Vice President and I don’t like a company policy. Even if it is out of my lane, I need to say something. If only so that others with valuable opinions, information, and experience know it’s okay to speak up too. When supportive voices show up, the conversation moves forward. Our colleagues, bosses, partners, and customers lose their fear of getting involved.
What one action could you take to draw others in at that kind of scale? What one big thing could you do that helps everyone flourish?
The personal IS the professional
It used to be an accepted fact that we should keep personal and professional matters separate. Now we know that’s a patriarchal ideal that doesn’t compute in the modern work world—especially for women (ahem, 50% of the workplace) who still carry the societal burden of child care, home care, elder care, etc.
Today, it’s all hands on deck. While some of our male counterparts have the luxury of counting on homebound spouses to handle all of those personal particulars, most of us don’t. To make “the professional” work, our organizations must find a way to support “the personal.”
Take a look across your organization for policies and processes where “the personal” is holding back “the professional.” What could your organization change to ease personal burdens and release all that untapped professional power? What do you need to say or do to get that ball rolling?
Individual actions become movements
Since Lizzo’s announcement, many others in Hollywood and beyond have added their voices and donations to the effort. All of that is happening because, one day, Lizzo decided to take action.
“The most important thing is action,” the performer said on the day of her announcement. And she’s right. Actions don’t happen in a void, they ripple out. We all influence each other. Even though a particular step may seem small, it can easily grow into a movement.
When we use our power well, others follow suit. We don’t all have Lizzo’s power. But we all have at least some influence over those around us. And with that power comes the responsibility to stand up, shout out, and support the ideas and causes we believe in.
What is one action you’ve been thinking about but hesitate to move forward on because it seems too small? Decide today to just do it. Take the action, tell others about it, and watch it grow.
Ironically, using power takes courage
The funny thing about power is that, once we have it, we fear losing it. So we’re inclined to tuck it away where it doesn’t do anybody any good. But leveraging our hard-earned power and influence doesn’t have to be scary or threaten our positions at all.
Sometimes, the best use of power is the simplest. Speaking up can be as easy as saying “thank you” to those who are taking actions you support. If I’m a worker bee on the front lines who sees a senior person doing the right thing, I can say something supportive. A simple “I appreciated that, thanks,” means the world to a leader who took a risk and leveraged their position to build support for a worthy cause.
“Thank you for your service” is what we say to military personnel to let them know that we appreciate their sacrifices. Sometimes the front lines aren’t a dusty battlefield—sometimes, they’re on TikTok or Twitter or LinkedIn. And a simple “thank you for this post” goes a long way. We may not all always agree, but at least the “always no” people won’t drown out the healthy conversation.
“But what if I don’t have power and influence yet?” some of you may be asking. Pshaw! I say. Think for a minute about your role in your organization. Whose opinions do you listen to? Who listens to you? Who, among the people you work with, might be paying attention to what you think and do … without your even realizing it? There, do you see it? That’s your point of power. Now that you know you have it, imagine all of the amazing things you could do!
Chin up, shoulders back. Here’s Cindy’s Courage Challenge for the week: Look around your organization or your personal life and choose an opportunity to use your power and influence to champion a policy, a person, a project, or an idea. Risk a little of your personal power to keep the positive energy flowing. As always, let’s discuss in the comments below!
Right now, at Cindy Solomon & Associates, we are deep diving into the skills needed to leverage the power and influence that come hand-in-hand with leadership. If you’re a leader who struggles with when and how best to use your power and influence (or you work with a leader who could benefit from a little guidance), visit courageousleadershipinstitute.com to purchase a webinar, workshop, or keynote for your team.
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At the Courageous Leadership Institute, we leverage our work with over 300,000 leaders and employees from 400+ companies to offer leadership programs that impact results with customers and employees immediately.
Cindy Solomon is CEO of the Courageous Leadership Institute, a thriving global leadership training and research organization with access to up-to-the-minute insights on how today’s most innovative corporations are defining the future of business. She is also the author of two books, The Rules of Woo and The Courage Challenge Workbook.