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The power move you need to make for high performance

As a leader, directing seems instinctive. But leveling out power dynamics and moving from an autocrat to a collaborator has the power to transform both the performance and wellbeing of your team.

A recent study of more than 13,000 respondents across six countries cited low autonomy as a significant factor that was undermining the wellbeing of workers worldwide. People are demanding more flexibility at work, but as empirical evidence has shown, in a way that best fits them. In other words, it’s conditional upon autonomy.

Choice, sovereignty and autonomy are fundamental human needs and having them removed triggers a powerful threat response in our brain. The reality is we don’t like having things done to us. The other side of the ‘doing to’ coin is ‘doing for’. It has just as big an impact on autonomy, but with an added sprinkle of “I don’t have faith in you”.

Like a muscle that’s not used or a plant that’s not nourished, our growth, development, confidence and capacity all wither over time when things are done for us. Research on reaching levels of mastery and the positive impact of stress (eustress) speak to this. The reality is that while we may like having things done for us, it doesn’t serve us in the long-term. So what’s the alternative?

The hidden power play

In any situation where there is relational energy being exchanged, there is also a power dynamic in play. Whether that’s formally in a workplace or it’s informally in a family or a friendship group, or even between intimate life partners, there is a dominating power and a lesser power. And that power can come from many sources.


The reality is that while we may like having things done for us, it doesn’t serve us in the long-term.

We often hear that leadership is the ability to influence others. This influence stems from different sources of power that people in both formal and informal leadership roles can hold. For example, positional power coming from their formal role, expertise power from their knowledge and experience, or social power through their network and influencing skills.

These create a power differential that in a traditional leadership dynamic is vertical – like a figure of 8 – where there is a dominator power and a lesser power.

The power of partnering

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose to shift the vertical power dynamic that is inherent in traditional leadership models to a horizontal one, turning the figure of 8 into an infinity sign (∞). In this dynamic, rather than doing leadership ‘to’ or ‘for’ people, we partner with them.

Partnering creates interdependence. It asks us to let go of a win–lose mindset and start striving instead for mutual connection and cocreation; it means working independently, together. And while it sounds simple, this is no small task. Because as we do this, we shift from leading from a basis of power to inviting others to partner with us from a place of mutual respect, responsibility and connection, and this is what creates the context for high performance.


Let go of a win–lose mindset and start striving instead for mutual connection and cocreation.

Data bears this out: a Google study that analyzed 180 businesses to find out what makes an effective team concluded that one of the most important factors was interdependence. Why? Because if we choose to make this shift and create a different power dynamic in our relationships, it triggers changes in our brain and body that move us out of the threat response that ‘doing to’ triggers or the disempowerment that ‘doing for’ creates, and moves us towards confidence, capacity and growth.

Success from collaboration

As we begin to feel seen, known and respected, our feelings of psychological safety and connection increase. We move from operating ‘below the line’ where separation and domination create a competitive dynamic of ‘you’ versus ‘me’, to operating ‘above the line’, where we see the common experiences that connect us all, we respect the contribution that each of us can make, and we extend a clear and clean invitation to partner.

Leadership is broken. What worked before isn’t working anymore. Domination dynamics – the traditional power model for workplaces – no longer serve us.

We need authentic engagement, creative innovation, willing contribution and diverse perspectives for people, teams and organizations to thrive. To build organizations where more people feel ready, willing and able to lead, we need the power of partnering.

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