Power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. Lord Emerich Edward Dalberg Action (1834-1902) thought, “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Nevertheless, power can be directed for good. I no longer believe power is a bad word. A little education changed how well I use my power.

Physicians carry importance in speaking out about health issues. The public knows that physicians have unique knowledge, important positions in society, and an obligation to use power for good.

In politics of global or local policy, the boundaries of knowledge and one’s personal agenda can get muddied. This tension is particularly evident when physicians take advocacy positions around the impact of the environment on health. Strong opinions and conflicting data exist about humans influencing climate change. Although physicians can provide concrete examples of medical consequences of climate change, if you are not evidence-based in your advocacy, you risk jeopardizing your credibility. Inevitably, the question of what evidence is strong enough to take action is a decision about values, rather than about science, which is where politics enter.

When you understand the distinction between position and personal power, you can lead with more confidence.

Sources of Power

Your power comes from two main sources:

power is based on formal status, authority, control of resources, or ability to offer punishments or rewards. Examples of position power include chairing a meeting or making needed decisions due to your role.

Personal power is based on expertise, special skills, personality traits, charisma, personal status, or credibility. Examples of personal power include respect gained based on skills, expertise, or experience.

Your connections and the information you have access to also represent sources of power, arising from either your position or your personal power. Becoming aware of your power is as much art as science and is not always clear-cut.

An often misunderstood and important point to remember is that when personal power is used wisely, it increases your positional power. When positional power is used wisely, it increases your personal power. However, when either one of these sources of power is used improperly, it reduces both your positional and personal power.

Importance of Awareness in Use of Power

Power itself is not the enemy. How you use your power is key. You are at risk of creating doubt and resentment if you use your power ineffectively. What can be challenging is that often we are not conscious of how we use our power or we are not intentional about the results desired. Instead, use your power well, and you will increase trust and support for your priorities

To be successful, whether you are leading, following, or collaborating in your roles, you need to get your opinions and ideas recognized by people around you. If the effect you’re having is not what you want, try becoming more aware of how you use both your personal and professional power. Your experience and perspective is critical to creating a healthy world!

Deborah Munhoz, MS, Certified Physician Development Coach™ helps busy physicians create success and fulfillment in medicine and their personal lives. Call (888) 303-3961 or get free resources here.

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