Protection, Permission and Power

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One of my greatest mentors was Dr. Martin Groder who had been a student of Dr. Eric Berne, the father of Transactional Analysis.  Marti had both an MD in Psychiatry and also an MBA, working in a Clinical Practice as well as Consulting with CEOs and Senior teams.   He taught me that the key to raising healthy children, helping individuals in therapy and also developing leadership effectiveness had to do with three core principles.  The first principle was that of offering some level of protection.  What each person wants to know, whether as a child or as an adult is first of all, “Is it safe, here?”  If I as a parent, therapist, consultant or leader can create a sense of psychological safety then people open up and will contribute.  Without that foundation of a sense of some form of “protection” in terms of psychological safe space, people close down, protect, keep up defenses and only partially participate, focusing on telling what they think I want to hear versus what they really think if they tell me much of anything at all.  One of the first great tasks of a leader then, if she or he wants full participation of those around her or him is to create that zone of psychological safety that says, “You can speak up here and you will be listened to respectfully.”

The 2nd great principle is that of Permission.  Permission to experiment with ideas, with different ways of participating, to try on new ways of thinking, to play with creativity and to innovate.  Leaders grant permission when they model an openness to new ideas, to cultivating and soliciting rich internal and external dialogue.  Without permission, people may feel protected and safe, but they do not venture out to creating anything of real value.  To create, to innovate, to lead means we have to venture out on thinner ice, stepping out into the unknown with an explorer’s curiosity and courage.

The 3rd strong principle that Marti taught me was that of Power / Potency.  We can not generate much power if we haven’t addressed the issues of protection and permission.  Once they have been brought forward through our actions as well as our words, we are now ready to address the challenge of Power, of empowering self and others.  There is a world of difference between “force” and “power.”  Too many leaders I have known confuse the two forms of getting things done and overuse “force” instead of cultivating real “power.”  Force has to do with coercion, with threats, bribes and in essence the whole “carrot and stick” extrinsic motivational drivers over-used in Corporations and small organizations around the world.  Power is the ability to get work done through the active engagement and energy of others.  Power generates more power and liberates motivations in others.  Coercion shuts down power and ultimately becomes a drain, closing down motivation in others or activating their desire for regime change (witness the revolutions in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.)  Power builds on protection and permission, becoming a living vortex of active engagement that is contagious.

How are you inviting those around you into a larger perspective of possibility through the conscious use of protection, permission and power?  What will you be doing going forward to consciously make use of these three great principles?

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