Are you powerful?
I’m not asking how many people answer to you; how much money you have; or about your perceived social standing.
By power, I mean, do you accept that you control your life experience; and that nobody can adversely affect your life unless you allow them to? Are you secure?
I know many people who’re in positions of power; who have people falling all over themselves to respond to their every whim, yet they are anything but secure. In fact, a lot of people in power feel fearful, isolated and insecure.
Think of King Herod in the Bible. As soon as Jesus was born in Bethlehem, three wise men who studied the stars came to him and asked: “Where is the baby born to be the King of the Jews? We have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2).
Insecure in his position, Herod was rattled when he heard this. He perceived Jesus as a competitor and determined to kill him. In preparation, he called together his chief priests and enquired where the Messiah would be born; and upon hearing that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, he sent the three wise men there to pin-point His exact location and report it to him, ostensibly so that he too, could go and worship Him.
Yet after the three wise men located Jesus, God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, whose intentions were anything but benign. In the interim, Joseph also received a warning to escape to Egypt with Mary and the baby Jesus.
When Herod realised that the three men did not do as he asked, he was livid! He used force and aggression to try to reinforce his authority and hold on to his position. He ordered that all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two years be killed. He caused untold misery and heartache to many families, to preserve his own ego and image.
But Herod eventually died, with his legacy in tatters. This allowed Joseph to return to Israel with his family. No amount of aggression, or bloodshed, could keep Jesus from his destiny.
Do you know any Herods? Are they in your organisation? Are you a King Herod in the making?
Many of us exhibit tendencies similar to Herod’s – we feel threatened by colleagues who excel at their jobs; and show irrational rage when other people shine. We fear they make us look bad; and see our very survival as depending on their downfall. We spend sleepless nights because we fear our nemesis may end up with our job. We use underhand tactics to try to eliminate perceived threats to our power.
This is more common than we might realise. Research shows that particularly when powerful people doubt their competence, they become aggressive and lash out against people who threaten their power.
While this is not true of everyone, for most people, the greater their perceived lack of competence, the greater their aggression.
According to a study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, power increases the degree to which people feel they must be competent, not only to perform their job, but to hold on to their position against would-be challengers.
When people in power doubt their competence; or fear they’re doing a bad job and that someone may see through their incompetence, any perceived threat sparks a negative reaction.
Think of any overtly aggressive person you know in a position of power – the terrible boss who screams or reacts in some over-the-top, disproportionate way to perceived challenges to their authority. They bully and humiliate subordinates, perhaps even drive them out of the organisation, the minute they fail to toe the line or threaten to out-shine their boss.
Contrary to what such people may outwardly project, they don’t despise, or have a low opinion of other people; they have a low opinion of themselves. They doubt their own abilities and are determined not to be exposed.
If you’re one of the people who feels easily threatened by others, and are tempted to aggressively stamp out such threats, understand this: no amount of aggression is ever going to make you feel better.
The more people you identify as threats and determine to punish, the more numerous your problems become – you will never find peace.
You cannot preserve your power by attacking ‘external threats;’ it’s impossible to control other people’s behaviour. The only thing you can control if your reaction to them. Even if it seems like you’re managing to control someone briefly, eventually, they will find the courage to defy you.
Regardless of the position you hold; or even how you came by it, all power derives from within. That is how some people can occupy lofty positions but never seem to fully inhabit them. It’s never about the title, but what you believe about yourself.
Believe in your inherent worthiness; and that you were made to carry out great works. What’s more, don’t feel threatened by other people’s strengths. Know that you were created in God’s image. It’s your birth right to shine; and to follow your unique path to make a positive impact.
If you’re living with a King Herod, don’t take their behaviour personally. Realise that their battle is not with you but with themselves. Don’t dwell on how miserable they make you; or try to justify why you hate them. No one can keep you from your destiny unless you allow them to by focusing on them.
Accept that you do control your life experience, through what you focus your attention on. Focus on the positive ÔÇô it always leads to positive outcomes. When you do this, you finally experience the true meaning of positive, sustainable, power!
*Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) and the Founder of the Positive Peace Project, an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. For more information regarding how we can help you or your company, please contact [email protected].