How to build your power and feel good about it

April 28, 2011, 7:31 PM UTC

I’m in Austin, Texas today at the University of Texas School of Law’s Women’s confab — and it means something that the organizers call their event the “Women’s Power Summit.”

So what does it mean?

We’ve come a very long way since my colleagues and I launched Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in 1998. Back then, the vast majority of women leaders felt squeamish about the word.


More women embrace power today and know that comfort with it hinges on defining it the right way.

Super-lawyer Linda Addison, who heads the New York office of Fulbright & Jaworski, is interviewing me about Women and Power at the lunch session. Here at this confab, I’ve already heard some insights worth sharing:

Harvard Business School Professor Robin Ely told the audience that power is nothing — or worse, a liability unless it’s paired with purpose. Ely’s point reminds me of my favorite definition of power — Oprah Winfrey’s: “Power is the ability to impact with purpose,” the woman who ranks No. 6 on Fortune’s MPWomen list has told me.

And regardless of gender, how do you enhance your power — especially to advance your career?

Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Power: Why Some People Have It–And Others Don’t, shared his list of “Personal Qualities that Create Power”:

Persistence and resilience

Self-knowledge and self-reflection (Recognize your mistakes.)
Empathic understanding of others (See the situation from their point of view.)
Ability to tolerate/manage/handle conflict

Another tip from Pfeffer: Ask for help. “People don’t ask for help nearly enough,” he said, noting that people tend to be flattered when asked for help. “It acknowledges that the person has something we need,” Pfeffer says, adding, “Get over it. Ask for help, and do it in a flattering way.”

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