What does it mean to be a powerful woman? Do we have to be aggressive and domineering, exerting power over others to drive success? Or if you favor collaboration, can you transform the meaning of power?

There are two steps to consider when determining how you can be powerful if you desire to be.

First, you need to be aware of the various types of power you can use.

In my experience teaching leadership for 32 years, I have found the following six types of power plus one where you give away your power.*

  1. Power Over – the decisive, goal-directed, task/measurement focused approach where you force or motivate people to perform using either threats or rewards.
  2. Positional Power – when others accept your decisions and suggestions due to your title, job responsibility, or expertise. You might use this power to exert your power over, your soft power or your creational power.
  3. Relational Power – when others accept your decisions and suggestions because they trust and like you. They follow you based on admiration.
  4. Soft Power – when you achieve a desired result by inspiring, encouraging and giving hope to others or by an attraction to your values, ethical stance, or vision (people believe as you do and want what you want).
  5. Creational Power – when you work hard to create an environment or circumstances where others can realize their power or potential. Your work impacts their lives. They are able to manifest greater results because of what you design and implement. You may use any of the other powers as you work to create these conditions. Oprah told Pattie Sellers from Fortune Magazine that she learned to love the concept of power when she realized her power was to create “an impact with purpose.”
  6. Empowerment – when you transfer responsibility and full authority to a person or group. You then operate to support the development and use of their power.
  7. Conceding Power – when you give up your power to others either willingly or due to your fear of consequences. There are times you might choose to put your energy elsewhere.

The second step is to create your own criteria for when to choose each power. In today’s world where collaboration and globalization are critical competencies, the leader who can stimulate and tap into collective intelligence can gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace over the leader who focuses on pushing individual achievement.

Certainly there are times when you need to wield power over others. Ask any parent or manager who catches an employee breaking a safety rule. Sometimes you urgently need to make a decision. These events require you use Positional Power. Positional and Power Over can also be critical to demonstrate for new leaders. Do you know when using “power over” is good or harmful?

Soft Power and Empowerment will be more effective when inspiring teams. Social Scientists Chambris and Wooley found that groups built on diversity and trust demonstrated evolved thinking with results in productivity and creativity verging on “magical.” They found that the ability to tune into each other’s emotions and needs and open, shared participation was critical. What powers could you use to inspire this possibility? Soft Power and Empowerment give teams the sense of responsibility they need to make magic together. And you will probably use Creational Power to manifest these teams in the first place, especially in an environment where empowerment is more of a buzz word than a reality.

Surprisingly, I have found men generally better at Relational Power than women in the workplace. My last boss taught me the power of corporate politics, how to build relationships with my peers and influential leaders who I could then call on to champion my work when I needed them. Corporate politics based on Relational Power is a good source of power to have.

On the other hand, women tend to concede power too much, allowing and even deferring to men in meetings when decisions need to be made. I have seen this is companies worldwide when I teach leadership classes. I do help my strong, smart female clients recognize how to “pick their battles” knowing that sometimes it is not worth it to fight. Yet other times it is important to make sure your voice is heard and your ideas are considered. Do you know what stops you from giving power to your voice? Knowing when to relinquish power and when to stand up for yourself and your ideas is critical to your success.

You can be powerful if you know the range of powers available to you and when to use them.

I would love to hear your stories of how you have used your powers.

*This work does not conflict with the classic list of powers defined by French and Raven in 1959. Today’s leaders still need strong power along with what French and Raven called “referent power.” My list is based on people wanting to use their power even when they have no authority, position or expert power to use.

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