Letting people soar – True power at work

Colourful, silent and rising, a hot air balloon floated in front of my mobile office this summer.  It reminded me of inspiring and empowering leaders who free team members to soar and use their gifts. We know of too many unfortunate stories of gifted employees being crushed by an unconscious (or sometimes deliberate) boss wielding power counterproductive to an organization and its people thriving.

Research repeatedly shows that power can inhibit emotional intelligence and those tasting power for the first time are particularly susceptible to negative changes (Goleman 2019).

As I listen to clients who are seeking solutions in their work environments, I hear many stories of workplaces where ego, power and control drive actions of people with “positional” power. These are places where employees often need to shrink, despite their experience, skills and gifts so others can feel better and more in control.

Marianne Williamson offers advice for people who feel they need to shrink. “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine  . . . . We were born to make manifest the glory of God . . . . And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” I absolutely believe that and know it can be hard to continue to shine in dysfunctional workplaces or under bully behaviours.

Parker Palmer talks about limitations at work imposed by bosses who are intent on keeping people in their place and who prefer to get rid of those whose ability for truth-telling challenges the status quo (Palmer 2000: p.42).  He suggests ineffective leaders tend to stomp on creativity using traditional policies and practises to constrain people; he writes that “if our institutions are rigid, it is because our hearts fear change” (Palmer 2000; p. 77). But change is constant and creativity of all team members is essential. Bullying, power and control or passive aggressive behaviour will not allow people to shine or to bring their gifts to the table. But those shining gifts are exactly what we need to innovate and adapt.

It is ego and fear that causes this toxic behaviour. Trying to control people, shutting them out or undermining them, appeals to people who want to prevent others from being successful or getting credit. But Eckhart Tolle says bosses unknowingly sabotage themselves when they do this. “The ego doesn’t know that the more you include others, the more smoothly things flow and the more easily things come to you”(Tolle 2016: p.123).

Sadly, I hear frequently from those I coach and consult, that workplace cultures continue to exploit people. Management is still often subtle in its control and alienation. Instead, it would be amazing if the workplace was a place of inspiration and creativity where your gifts are welcomed and your contributions noticed (O’Donohue 2004; p. 140).

That is the kind of workplace I love to promote and foster. It is possible to have a thriving, creative, collaborative workplace where everyone is included and respected.

I’m curious. Are you allowed to soar and use your gifts in the workplace? Or are you kept in a cage? Are you a leader struggling inside a certain kind of culture but know a better path is possible? Do you want to create that path and make a difference?

Contact me here. I’d love to hear your experience and talk about what is possible.


Goleman, Daniel. 2019. “What Power Does to the Brain.” Retrieved (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-power-does-brain-daniel-goleman/).

O’Donohue, John. 2004. Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. repr. New York: Harper Perennial.

Palmer, Parker J. 2000. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tolle, Eckhart. 2016. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. 10th Anniversary Edition. New York, New York: Penguin Books.

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