3 Ways You’re Showing Power–And One You’re Not

Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore in her show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Personal power is necessary for women (and men) to become leaders. But a male-dominated culture has made some women misunderstand the concept of “empowerment.” Being sexy is powerful in romantic relationships, but it doesn’t empower you at work. Instead, focus on being open, imperfect and selectively proactive.

1. You are open to what other people think about your idea–even when they don’t like it

You seek feedback, not to adapt your work to what other people like, but because hearing different opinions – even negative ones – enriches and sharpens your thinking. You’re not afraid of hearing criticism because your objective is to do better work.

2. You admit the possibility of failure

You try. You learn by doing even when you’re not sure how to go about new things. As Seth Godin’s puts it, like a baby learning how to walk, you become a professional stumbler. You’re not afraid of making mistakes and fail because you don’t mind others seeing you’re only human.

3. You seek solutions for the solvable problems and let go of the unsolvable ones

As Bill Burnett and Dave Evans claim in their fantastic book and movement, Designing Your Life, you need to identify problems that are “gravity” or “anchor” problems, because these cannot be solved. Thus, working on them will have you getting “the wrong answer every time,” the authors write.

Instead, take action to change the things you don’t like that can be changed. Speak up. Speak loud and don’t take no for an answer.

And when you can’t accept a situation that won’t change, leave or learn to deal with it.

0. You show your sex appeal at work

Being sexy and flirtatious in a professional relationship diminishes your power in three fundamental ways.

First, it makes you appear less competent. People will think, ‘Is this the only way she can make things work?’

Second, it makes you appear manipulative and your integrity fly out the window. I knew a financial advisor who got breast implants because she wanted to improve her commissions. So, the next day in the office, she started calling all her male clients and taking them out to lunch. It worked with some, but, was it ethical? Was it worth it? Was it professional?

Third, it shows you play by sexist rules because it reinforces the only type of female power that the male supremacist culture allows women to wield.

Yesterday I was, for the second and last time in my life, at a “quinceañera” party. In the event, a girl who’s turning 15 symbolically becomes a woman.

In the ceremony, the father made the girl become a woman by changing her white flats for a pair of flashy high heels.

Then, she danced with all the men in the family: father, both grandfathers, uncles, cousins, and brothers–who in this case were younger than she was. The men waited in line to dance with the girl, who had no word in deciding who to dance with.

Afterward, she changed her princessy blue, frothy dress for a red, tight Barbarella-ish jumpsuit. Ah! There was finally the woman: openly sexual and “powerful.”

This is not the kind of female empowerment that women should be willing to accept.

Professional women use their brains and not their bodies to get things done.

Powerful professional women don’t wait to be “given” power because their personal power is theirs and is inalienable.

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Thanks for sharing your comments and feedback here.


  1. Good thoughts. I enjoyed reading your post.

    However, doesn’t age, culture and personality play a role in the expressions you cite? Your observations are all core truths, but don’t individual variations in perceptions and behavior play a discernible significant role in how this all presents itself, as well. John Deats

    • Thanks!
      Are you talking about being sexy? Yes, individual perceptions play a role because beauty and “sexiness” are in the eye of the beholder. My intention is to make women reckon that there are other ways to establish relationships with men, other than “father” (authority figure, professors, paternal bosses, etc.) or “lover” (someone to flirt with) or “son,” as women get older. A professional relationship shouldn’t fall into either of these categories; it’s a category in itself. But I don’t know, what’s your experience?

    • I do believe the power and strength of a woman leader is a personal/individual perception but I also believe that it has been through the ages a form of manipulation and tool to get what is perceived they want in a male dominated environment, only to find out that their method of operation has been compromised or replaced by someone more tantalizing to the person that put her in position initially. I strongly support the strength of a woman leader when it comes with establishing a relationship with the respect and trust a person of power places in you to do the job with the brains and ability that is not easily compromised by sexuality.

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