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An Empowering View Of Power Play Within Organizations

Written by: Angela Cusack, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Women leaders, me included, yearn for deeper and more satisfying relationships with one another and our male counterparts. We often feel frustrated by the countless misunderstandings and struggles of finding the right words to express ourselves and build connections that lead to the ultimate sense of belonging, where we freely express our thoughts, offer our perspectives, and share concerns.

We, The Women. Written in torn piece of paper

If our own experience weren't enough, decades of research confirm that men and women listen, process, and speak differently. Our communication styles are informed by where we hear from—women tend to seek understanding and affinity. In contrast, men tend to be pragmatic and direct. This is, of course, a generalization. Yet as leaders, and coaches of leaders, having insight into the fundamental differences of gender orientation is the first step toward coaching woman leaders on more complex issues that we face as we set our sights on and claim our seats at the C-suite table.

In my experience as an executive and now as a coach to women aspiring to or with those who already hold an executive leadership position, the number one unspoken struggle women face revolves around their narratives about power and politics. Who has it? How do I get it? What does it mean? Do I want it? Once I have it, then what?

A woman's relationship with power and politics is central to this genuine struggle. It is at the root of suffering that often goes unmentioned, yet far from unnoticed. It reveals itself through our experiences of shame, blame, self-doubt, and guilt. It reveals itself when our focus is on "me" versus "we"; withdrawal and silence "to go along to get along." It reveals itself when women believe there's only enough room for one at the C-suite table and become overly protective of their place in line. For the conversation to shift, we must purposefully explore our relationship with power from an individual, social, and systemic context. Mary Beard wrote a slim yet potent book, Women and Power: A Manifesto, based on two lectures she delivered in 2014 and 2017, both focusing on silencing women's voices in the public sphere. Taking all this into account, coaches can offer women leaders a psychologically safe space to get in touch with, examine, and develop new narratives about power and politics that inform and influence future choices about who they are being as they lead and how they can positively influence their organization’s social structures.

Generative Interpretations:

  • Power is your capacity to act and produce an outcome that takes care of what matters to you.

  • Politics is the authority you possess to be in "the" conversations where declarations and decisions are made about the future.

Traditionally, woman leaders (including many men) experience power and politics as a selfish enterprise—a game we proudly profess we are not playing, no matter the cost. This avoidance points to the underlying belief that the purpose of power is taking versus taking care.

I know this story all too well. Until I was introduced to these generative distinctions in 2009 by Bob Dunham, founder of The Institute for Generative Leadership, I falsely believed that my executive status resulted from my drive, astute business acumen, intellectual and organizational savvy plus much luck but certainly not because I somehow mastered this selfish little game of "taking." Like me, women leaders who arrive at the C-suite making a similar claim leave their power on the proverbial table.

For me—and for the women, I work with—a slight turn of our internal kaleidoscope reveals a new understanding, appreciation, and relationship with power and politics.

Own your power.

Breaking traditional views of power and politics is the first step in coaching women leaders. I've found it helpful to work within the context of business while supporting the discovery of the unconscious narratives that have been freely passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, such as:

  • Power belongs only to a select few.

  • Power is gained by taking it from others.

  • Power is synonymous with money and position.

  • Power is authority and control over others.

  • Power is selfish.

  • Power is rarely understood as the social and systemic context we live in and must navigate. It lives undetected in the background—just out of view. It's an unspoken spoken norm for living that keeps women and men stuck in the unresolved spiral of what we perceive "is."

Our role as reflective partners and coaches is to illuminate and help women move forward with authenticity, strength, ease, and grace.

No matter where we are in the world, power and politics are non-discretionary rules within the game of business and, for that matter, life. If we do not, we will be missing a critical opportunity to break the cycle of our historical patterns that hold women and our world back from innovations, technologies, and, ultimately, healing. Preparing women and men for the C-suite begins by inviting them to dive deep into this phenomenon, revealing their fundamental biases, beliefs, and relationship with these constructs.

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Angela Cusack, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Angela Cusack is often referred to as an organization’s secret weapon. She is understated, patient, and moves with ease as she partners with executive leaders in defining and shaping cultures that produce deeper connections, higher engagement, and overall well-being and prosperity for all involved. Angela is an impact player. Her presence is felt throughout an organization even if she can only be found coaching and consulting within the C-suite. The new insights, actions, and results that arise from working with Angela are undeniable and impact more than just one’s professional life. Angela wholeheartedly believes that “who you are is how you lead”.



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