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Power Pose vs. Aggressive Emptying

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Sunday Story for Monday: the Counter-intuitive Ways of Sheep among Wolves

The self-made man with his mind-crane.

The self-made man with his mind-crane.

Can words spoken from a low power position influence others?

This older Harvard Business School article (Power Posing: Fake It Until You Make It) describes how simply snapping your body into a power pose can have a physiologic effect. Read about the small study (N=42) by Cuddy, Carney and Yap here. Striking a pose for two-minutes stimulated higher levels of testosterone (hormone linked to dominance) and lower levels of cortisol (so-called stress hormone) in the study group. People literally felt more powerful and less stressed after their pose.

Every human dreams of more power. More power translates to being respected. Maybe power looks like speaking and being heard as one with authority. And perhaps with more power we’ll become benevolent despots bestowing good unto others as we stride through our own personal kingdoms.

The promise of more power is intimately tied with many of our messages about leadership development. Industries and institutions will always buy more technique about leadership development because, well, who doesn’t want to be perceived as capable and full of power?

In stark contrast, there’s an old story about how Jesus saw the authorities of his day use their power for their own aggrandizement while offering little help to the harassed and helpless crowds. So he organized and commissioned his own set of spiritual paramedics to go to the harassed and helpless.

Just before these spiritual paramedics hit the streets to proclaim and heal and cast out demons and raise the dead, Jesus told them how little personal power they would have. They would not be received well. Despite their hopeful message they would be beaten and tortured, and hauled in front of councils, governors and kings.

And that’s how it played out: powerful messages in powerless packaging.

Was there something in the powerless packaging that actually helped people hear the message? Powerful words and actions delivered by powerless, peripheral people could not be enforced or made into law. There was little outside incentive to listen. And yet what they said and did endures today, these many centuries later.

Tell me again: why is it we all seek power so eagerly?

When Constantine turned Christianity into the law of the land, the message lost much saltiness. Does my lust for power come from wanting to help people or just wanting them to play my game by my rules? Are there any truths I have to deliver today that might be helped by “aggressively empty” versus a pose of power?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

June 17, 2013 at 7:56 am

9 Responses

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  1. This is very interesting. Some corollaries come to mind–parenting, teaching. Lecture compared Socratic method. Et infinite cetera! Thanks for this post!


    June 18, 2013 at 11:02 am

    • Parenting and teaching certainly do come to mind. But nearly any conversation seems to benefit from seeking first to know, as Mr. Covey used to say. Thanks for reading.


      June 18, 2013 at 4:18 pm

  2. Loved this post, Kirk. (… she said as she went online to register for the Global Leadership Summit at Eagle Brook 🙂 His power is made perfect in our weakness.


    June 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    • Not that leadership (or the study thereof) is bad. It’s just that I wonder if we put too much stock in seeking the position of power, thinking that will get our messages through. Thanks for reading.


      June 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm

  3. […] to five years to change an organization seems optimistic. And for those bosses still using power poses and monologue to enforce their will—I would argue such communication is near the heart of our […]

  4. Almost a year later and I liked it again. Just finished a class where we discussed the Amy Cuddy video. Next time around, I want to include your thoughts.


    June 13, 2014 at 9:32 am

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