The current Presidential campaign may turn you off, but it has brought an important issue to the fore that has the potential for unleashing positive energy in the workplace. Last week, Michelle Obama gave an impassioned speech at a rally in New Hampshire. I don’t know the personal history that moved her to speak so emotionally about the issue of sexual assault, but I resonated with her words from my own experience.
While flying with my business partner (I’ll call him Bob) to work on an incumbent state Governor’s re-election campaign, a man boarded the plane, greeted Bob, and the two men traded one of those knowing “winks” as I was introduced. I was insulted, and I had to remind myself that even though I might have been a young entrepreneur, I was also a smart, talented, and hard-working professional—not a bimbo. The energy I wasted on that flight trying to self-regulate could have been better applied to creative and productive work.
Later that evening, Bob took me to see a local landmark and began groping me. I should have been shocked, but at some level, I blamed myself—I should have seen it coming, I thought. To my credit, I stopped him and declared the partnership over. I flew home alone to face starting my business over from scratch.
As a seasoned professional woman, I sadly have too many of these stories—some I’ve shared over the years, some I have kept to myself believing that no good would come from sharing them.
Sometimes I am dismayed at my own assumed constraints. Have I been complicit in allowing such behavior to continue? For example, I gave into limiting beliefs, such as…
- Women should stand up to abuses of power in the workplace. But what about women who don’t have the education, entrepreneurial bent, or means to change their situation?
- It’s just immature men doing their thing. But powerful men doing their thing tend to diminish people’s energy in the workplace as they deal with the emotional labor to justify their position. Truth is, when we accept the abuse of power as just men (or women) doing their thing, everyone loses.
I just delivered a research paper at an academic conference reporting on the effect leadership power has on people’s motivation, well-being, productivity, and sustainable performance. I’ll be writing more about this research in months to come. But, right now I think it’s important to acknowledge that we found that the use of most forms of power erodes people’s optimal motivation. It may seem obvious that the abuse of power—especially through sexual misconduct—is simply wrong. But, the reason it’s wrong is not just because it inhibits creativity, innovation, and results in the workplace, but because it damages the human spirit and disconnects us from our common humanity.
Despite the ugliness of this political season, I have hope that raising our voices to eliminate practices that diminish anyone’s place in the world might ultimately raise all of us to a better place.