Would you call yourself a powerful person?
Do you trust yourself with power? Does owning your power feel a bit like holding a hot potato?
The many ways we learn about power–often by having it taken away from us, seeing it taken away from others, or seeing people go to great lengths to take and keep power, no matter the cost or casualties–understandably influence our understanding of power for the worse.
We have benefitted from many pioneering scholars and social justice leaders who deeply embraced their personal power in the face of systemic abuses. These leaders saw personal power as a birthright and generative, not as something to fear.
Owning your power can feel liberating. It’s liberating to no longer live from a burdened sense that we are flawed for doubting ourselves or that we are in deficit because we feel shut down and stuck in our pain and the pain around us.
Today’s guest has a lens on power that runs contrary to what many of us have been taught about. She believes that personal power is not something to gain but something you already have and intrinsic to who you are. She sees power itself as neutral.
Dr. Cedar Barstow has a long-time devotion to helping people own and use their power wisely and well. Her book, Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics and engaging courses are offered through the Right Use of Power Institute. In addition to being founder of Right Use of Power Institute, Cedar's background includes being a Hakomi Mindful Somatic Therapy trainer and therapist, and an ethics consultant. She lives with her husband, Dr. Reynold Feldman, in Boulder, Colorado.
Listen to the full episode to hear:
Learn more about Dr. Cedar Barstow:
Learn more about Rebecca:
Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Power with inside people can seem like the same thing as we’re all in this together, and it’s really not. What I think we should be talking about is being collaborative with power, so that I still stay in my responsibilities but I can be more collaborative and less like “the leader knows everything and the employee knows nothing and the leader tells the employee what to do.” But we can talk about their perspective, my perspective. We can collaborate with each other and still have me holding the responsibilities of my role.
[Inspirational Intro Music]
Rebecca Ching: Would you call yourself a powerful person, and do you trust yourself with power? Does owning your power feel a little bit like holding a hot potato? I’m curious - what influences your ability to feel powerful? Is it titles, money, time, accomplishments, accolades, access, or how you feel in your body or how your body looks? Maybe the idea of your being powerful feels uncomfortable or illusive, or maybe it’s just not something you think about much at all for fear of thinking about power or being powerful feels like a negative thing.
You're not alone if that’s the case because so many of us, especially those who don't hold dominant culture identities, have learned to fear power and see it as the enemy. This causes us to reject our personal power even in the face of power-over experiences from bosses, educators, family, community, and culture.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
How we language and talk about power often connects with our beliefs about power. The many ways we learn about power, sadly, are often by having it taken away from us, seeing it taken away from others, or seeing people go to great lengths to take and keep power, no matter the cost. These things, understandably, influence our understanding of power for the worst.
Now, we’ve benefitted from many pioneering scholars and social justice leaders who deeply embrace their personal power in the face of systemic abuses of power. Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill reference many of these leaders in depth and detail in their book Confidence Culture. These leaders saw personal power as a birthright and generative, not as something to fear.
Now, this lens on power is not something I was taught, let alone the many I have supported over the last two decades. Many clients came to me to “reclaim their power” and find their power in confidence and cure their fears and their doubts. They saw their struggles as a personal and moral failure, and if they're struggles persisted and healing felt elusive, this reflected on their lack of worthiness and reinforced their belief that they were powerless. Now, I know their power and confidence were never lost but just buried under many hard experiences and incessant messaging from a flawed, trillion-dollar self-help industry and a burdened culture holding racism, sexism, materialism, and individualism.
Orgad and Gill write in their amazing book that, “Confidence culture is powerful and seductive, and we do not exist outside of this. As feminist scholars of media culture and psychological studies, we’re profoundly aware that power does not just exist ‘out there in the world.’ It also exists in here. It shapes our ways of relating to ourselves and others.
Inspired by Black feminist and post-colonial scholars from Frantz Fanon to Sood to bell hooks and to Octavia Butler, we recognize the psychic force of diverse forms of oppression, the terrifying ways in which subordination and social injustice operate, not simply through dispossession and discrimination, but by taking up residence in our heads and our hearts.”
Phew, I also value what Valerie Kaur writes in her beautiful book See No Stranger: A Memoir, A Manifesto of Revolutionary Love About Power in the face of overwhelming adversity. It lands far different from the often well-intentioned but lacking empowerment messages we see proliferated throughout personal and professional development spaces. She writes: “Any act to change the world around us begins with us.”
It starts with a sense of agency, a sense that we can affect change. The Latin root of the word power means to be able. When we feel helpless in the face of injustice, it is easy to give into the idea that this is just the way things are because it’s the way things have always been. Then someone comes along and sparks our imagination, maybe a prophetic voice from the past or a friend on the phone. We begin to see that the norms and the institutions that order this world are not inevitable but constructed and therefore can be changed.
The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire calls this internal shift critical consciousness: that moment we tap into our power to change the world around us, it feels like waking up. When we connect with our personal power, it sure does indeed feel like waking up. It feels liberating to no longer live from a burdened sense that we’re flawed for doubting ourselves or that we’re in deficit because we feel shut down and stuck in our pain and the pain around us. Yeah, it sure does indeed feel like waking up.
Today’s guest’s lens on power is contrary to what many of us have been taught about power. She believes one aspect of power (personal power) is not something to gain but something you already have and is intrinsic to who you are. She sees power itself as neutral. I know, mind explosion.
Dr. Cedar Barstow has long devoted to helping people own and use their power wisely and well. Her book Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics, and engaging courses, are offered at www.rightuseofpower.org. In addition to being the founder of Right Use of Power Institute, Cedar’s background includes being a Hakomi Mindful Somatic Therapy Trainer, Therapist, and Ethics Consultant. She lives with her husband in Boulder, Colorado.
Listen for Cedar’s definition of ethics and how it connects to her lens on power, and pay attention to when Cedar shared that she believes power is neutral and also offers the same stance of neutrality towards hierarchies, (which took me a minute to get my brain around), and notice when Cedar talks about the different types of power, from personal, role, status, collective, and institutional power.
All right, y’all, get your notebooks ready, fasten your seatbelts, and please welcome Dr. Cedar Barstow to The Unburdened Leader podcast. Dr. Barstow, thank you for coming on the show!
Dr. Cedar Barstow: You're so welcome!
Rebecca Ching: Ah, well, I want to jump back in. We’re gonna talk about power. Power is part of your body of work, and it’s a loaded word. I think it’s particularly a loaded word depending on the identities you hold and your lived experience.
You started off on this journey about power by writing a book, more initially focused in the clinical mental health space, as a different way to view ethics, which is part of, as a trained psychotherapist, our ethical training. You offered an alternative a little over two decades ago. I’m curious, originally you were just focusing on psychotherapists with this book. What led to your shift in making this work (what you call the right use of power)? What led to you making this shift more open to everyone and not just therapists?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: So actually, Rebecca, it was 35 years ago --
Rebecca Ching: No way!
Dr. Cedar Barstow: -- that I started this.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, my goodness.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: I didn't write the book until ten years after I had begun doing trainings of this approach to ethics in a very embodied way. I was the administrative director of the Hakomi Institute at that time, and I really began seeing that, yes, we had a code of ethics, yes we had a grievance process, but that didn't mean that people were not making mistakes and causing harm.
Rebecca Ching: Exactly.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: In fact, it tended to be more scary for people because you sign a code of ethics and say, “I understand this. I will not do any of these things.” But that doesn't include the life fact that relationships are messy. No matter how much we want to do good, we make mistakes. Just the simple fact that intentions are also different from their impact. And so, it’s not a matter of being good, meaning you never make a mistake or never cause any harm. If you have that idea, then you're not gonna be able to notice when harm has been caused. And so, it’ll just keep repeating or escalating.
Gosh, what is it that we need as part of our ethics training to actually be able to understand ourselves, our shadow selves, being able to track for when harm has happened and take responsibility for reaching out and trying to repair it. And so, that’s how the whole course got started. I wanted to create a class that would help people understand from the inside out, not just the rule side, about ethics and experiential, make it interesting, engaging. That’s when the idea that ethics is actually the right use of power came in. Once I understood that, oh, my gosh, worlds opened.
So ethics was just not this narrow, little lane, but actually was a living, exciting, creative lifelong learning about your impact as a person who has and uses power as all leaders and therapists do. Power is everywhere, and the foundation of this idea of ethics as power is actually the power difference, the power differential, and that’s true whether you're a therapist or a CEO or a coach or anybody in a leadership role. There is a difference between the amount and kind of power you have compared to your client or your employee.
So working with therapists, and then I got a consulting job with a spiritual group that was having lots of ethical misbehaviors and really needed some help to sort that out. And so, I found that I could work with a whole community, and the leaders of that spiritual community and offer them some very valuable help that helped shift things around, but it’s also at the time when I realized sometimes we think ethics and right use of power should just be taught to the leaders. But no, I began to see that some of the problems in the spiritual group were because the students did not understand the nature of how power works and what kinds of things were unethical that their teachers might have been doing. But if they were able to understand, “Oh, this is unethical,” they could have protected themselves more.
Rebecca Ching: Mm, you know, power and ethics, these are words that get used broadly but often without real clarity. So I want to start off, before we go further in our conversation, with just you defining power, defining ethics, and how that leads to right use of power.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yeah, my friend Amina had said, “Cedar, you know, ethics is right use of power. I went to the dictionary, and I said, ‘Hey, what’s power?’ and the dictionary says, simply, power is the ability to have an effect or to have influence.” Well, that’s simple, and I notice that it’s neutral. As you said earlier, power has this dramatic, drumroll-please response where it looks like this is on force, and we know so much about the dynamics of power from seeing it abused and misused in the paper, in the news, in companies. We remember harm more easily than we remember a leader who was really wonderful, ethical, empowering. We tend not to remember that because harm sticks like Velcro, you know?
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: The definition of power being that neutral was such a good starting point because it’s how we use it that causes good or harm.
Rebecca Ching: Gosh.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: I noticed that this definition had two levels. One is power is an ability and it’s influence. So the ability is the capacity to use power. We all have power. Even babies have personal power when they cry or they laugh.
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: But then there’s influence, and influence is the how of our ability.
Rebecca Ching: It really shifts. It was interesting. I was interviewing a leader named Kelly Diels who was really appreciative of your work and talked about how we love empowerment but we don't like the word power.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: Particularly those who identify as female. And so, that neutral component of it has been a game changer, especially in so many conversations that I have with those that I work with, and it’s a little bit of a mind meld initially, too, because there’s this sense that we want to push against power but we also have power.
And so, before we move onto getting into the different types of power, how do you define ethics?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Well, I’m gonna read something from the book, if you don't mind.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely not.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: That’s the simplest.
“The dictionary definition says that ethics is the study of what is right and wrong and of duty and moral obligation, but for my purposes and our purposes with Right Use of Power Institute, ethics is a set of values, attitudes, and skills intended to have benevolent effects when applied through professional behavioral guidelines, decision-making processes, and the practice of compassion.”
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: So you can see there’s a felt-sense difference between those two kinds of definitions.
Rebecca Ching: What I like about it too is it really is something that we can make our own, you know? In the sense that there isn't this one way to be ethical, this one way. I think sometimes, especially in the clinical space, there’s sometimes a lot of polarities and binaries in this. But there’s still this sense of having to be really clear on values and the role of compassion and the role of benevolence and wear of impact. And so, the integration of power and ethics is what your body of work is about. Is that really it? That’s the right use of power, correct?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yes, I would name the other definition of right use of power as I’ve written it and cultivated the words:
“The use of personal and role power and influence to prevent, reduce, resolve, and repair harm, in addition to balance and integrate strengths with heart, improve relationships and situations, and promote wellbeing and the common good.”
Rebecca Ching: And that really goes back to what you were saying earlier. It’s not about never doing harm. If we’re in relationships, we’re gonna have an impact that isn’t always helpful to somebody, regardless of our intent.
And it’s this beautiful framework to not get out of a place of scarcity or avoiding relationships or going to a place of shame or blame, but it just kicks into, “Okay, harm was done, so then how do we respond? How do we repair? How do we move towards?” It’s not about a turf, and it takes work. That takes a really big collective commitment.
But this framework, I just feel like my whole nervous system kind of downshifts when I start to look at power and ethics and right use of power this way because it really does move us away from perfectionism and just all of the toxic positivity stuff.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: That’s right.
Rebecca Ching: And I think one thing that I can't stop talking about, whether I'm speaking, whether I’m running a group, whether I’m working with clients, is how you broke down different types of power in your Right Use of Power Methodology.
I’m just gonna say them first, and then I want to have a little bit of a conversation about them. But you talk about personal power. Personal power, role power, status power, collective power, and systemic power. You added collective and systemic power later on in your work, so originally it was just personal, role, and status power.
What I love about personal power is how you lay it out. We all have it. You touched on that at the beginning. It can get buried. We can believe the lies that are told that we are powerless, but when you kind of say you have it and it’s in you, you might need to uncover it or reclaim it, but your personal power.
Tell me a little bit about how when you are working, especially with organizations, and they respond that everybody has personal power. Tell me a little about the impact that has and what you’ve seen over the years when people really understand the role of personal power.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: I want to just insert one other thing about the definition. It’s the ability to have an effect or to have influence that implies relationship.
Rebecca Ching: Yes!
Dr. Cedar Barstow: So one of the things about right use of power is that it’s actually about being in right relationship. There’s a way that right use of power sets up an unfortunate binary (wrong and right). But really what it’s about is learning how to be in right relationship with all the types of power that you just named, in yourself and with others, both.
Rebecca Ching: Yes! That’s what I was just gonna say is that, to me, it’s how my relationship with myself, my inner system, how my story, how I lead, that is inextricably connected to my role power, status power, and collective and systemic power. If I am not in right relationship or even aware of that personal power, it’s hard to engage in a positive way, in an impactful way that wouldn't do harm. And so, that’s just a constant -- you know, in the IFS world we kind of talk about the Y-O-U-turn and then the RE-turn. So it’s very whiplashy at times. YOU-turn, RE-turn, and that dance.
I believe that. I read a lot of leadership books, and I read this one book, and you talked about how leadership is you walk in a room and you have an impact. Things shift just by your presence.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: And I’m like, “I’ll take that. Yep!” I think there are some similarities there. So how do you define role power?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: So let me expand a little more on personal power. In the beginning I just said, “Oh, we all have personal power,” and then I focused on role power. But then, as the years have gone by, I’ve seen that we have to focus on a lot more personal power because that’s our inner foundation. That’s where our values come from. That’s where our spirituality comes from. That’s where our personality comes from. That’s so big, and that’s where the trauma is held. If we’ve experienced, and all of us have, various amounts of traumatic harm, that’s where that has to be healed, in the personal power space.
Role power is often thought of as positional power, but I like the word role power. It’s kind of related to your job. It’s something that is earned, awarded, elected, or assigned. Role power automatically accompanies any position of authority.
Rebecca Ching: So, you know, from the family, I’m a parent.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: Right?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: That is a positional authority, isn't it? You don't get paid for it like you do when you have a job that you've been hired for, but in a way you get paid in love.
Rebecca Ching: And then there are, I think, the other hats that we wear, and I think this comes with varying degrees of privilege too, which maybe is more related to status power also.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: But we sometimes, if we’re not really owning our role power or we’re misusing it, tell me a little bit about what you see when you teach role power. What are some of the common struggles that come up around role power? What comes up when you talk about that when you're with organizations?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: I love your question, Rebecca!
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Dr. Cedar Barstow: So I use this very simple, symbolic item, which is a scarf. When anybody comes to a workshop, I ask them to bring a scarf, even an online workshop. I say, “So here you are. Feel your personal power. Now, imagine yourself in any role power that you have, like when you're a teacher, when you're a therapist, when you're a CEO, when you're committee chair, when you're a coach. Imagine that when you go in --,” I think of it in my therapist chair. I go in and I sit down and I meet my client, and before I enter the door, I imaginarily put on a scarf, and the scarf if the symbol -- often I do actually have a scarf. But it becomes this symbol of role power being an add-on power, not something that is my identity. My identity is my personal power.
So my scarf is embedded with the responsibilities that go with my job as a therapist. Responsibilities like providing a safe environment, responsibilities like being the guardian of time, responsibilities of tracking for if my client is talking about suicide or some serious issue that I need to provide outside help for. One of my responsibilities is to track their progress and assess how things are going.
These are all the responsibilities that go with my role. I need, at the end of my session, to take my scarf off or else I’m starting to carry that with me and it becomes more and more my identity, and that’s a false identity.
Rebecca Ching: It’s so interesting because over the years I’ve seen and worked with so many leaders who are like, “I am so successful at work. But at home --,” I mean, they're struggling. Their marriages are falling apart, their relationship with their kids, their own wellbeing. I think a lot of it has to do with they're trying to carry the role they have outside of the home and lead in the same way. They don't take the figurative scarf off.
There’s also something I’ve found with role power, particularly in any kind of helping progression or just humaning in general, is having a reverence for that role that we have. There’s that sense of that add-on power that you talked about, and if we lose a sense of, “Wow, there’s some trust here. There’s some vulnerability because of the role that I have,” or just having a reverence for that differential, for me it helps keep me connected to humility and staying curious instead of taking it for granted. That’s why I think so much of the -- you know, where harm can be done.
So that’s something I’ve really taken away as I start to delineate these different roles and learn about these roles.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: So many people in the helping professions, and maybe even -- well, I don't want to make generalizations, but maybe even women, in particular, say, “Oh, I don't want that! I don't want power over somebody. I don't want this,” and they try to flatten it so that they won't be having this image of power over.
In one of my classes, people were sitting partnered with each other, and we were doing an exercise where they embodied through a mindfulness exercise, one of them being in (we call it) up power (because it’s better when talking about power difference) and the client being in down power (down power not being no power, up power not being all power).
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: But the person who was the client in this exercise, the first thing they did was to take off their scarf and hand it to their client. I checked with the client and they said, “What was that like?” She said, “It was scary. I felt like all of a sudden I was on my own to handle my problems, and I was supposed to know everything, and I was going to this therapist because I felt broken that I didn't know everything. I needed help. I felt abandoned.”
Rebecca Ching: Mm. Yeah, and I think that can happen in a family situation --
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Absolutely.
Rebecca Ching: -- where parents parentify their kids, or any kind of organization where someone who’s supposed to be leading kind of releases and says, “Oh, we’re all in it together.” But because there are different power differentials and different access, different authorities, if we give that up because we’re so afraid of power over -- and there’s a real difference between power over and power with, yes?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yeah, power with can also be misconstrued as we all have the same amount of power.
Rebecca Ching: Ooh.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: You know?
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, can you say more?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Power with, inside people, can seem like the same thing as we’re all in this together. It’s really not. We are all in this together, but if I’m power with, when I think what we should be talking about is being collaborative with power so that I still stay in my responsibilities but I can be more collaborative and less like the leader knows everything and the employee knows nothing and the leader tells the employee what to do.
But we can talk about their perspective, my perspective. We can collaborate with each other and still have me holding the responsibilities of my role.
Rebecca Ching: And it really isn't a hierarchical approach with collaboration, right? There is this leveling of collaboration with ownership of roles and responsibilities. Am I hearing that correctly?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: I still think that’s a hierarchy. But again, I don't think of hierarchy as the enemy.
Rebecca Ching: Okay.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Hierarchy is neutral. It’s how we use it. We can use hierarchy to be power over, manipulative, all the stuff we see in the news and that causes abuse, or we can see hierarchy as a functional tool that we can use in a collaborative way.
Rebecca Ching: I’m sitting with this, and my brain is exploding a little bit. I don't disagree, and I’m just thinking though there’s a part of me going, “That’s fantasyland.”
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Is it?
Rebecca Ching: You know, well, I mean, in theory, that sounds great, right? But it would require everybody to really be on the same page with their personal and role power, correct? We haven't even touched on status power yet. But yeah, because I’m wondering for me -- I just have to think this through. But I’m wondering out loud. Maybe what I’ve done with power in the past I’ve done with the hierarchy. But I think there are parts of me still seeing collaborative and hierarchy as different, and you're saying they can still be the same --
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: -- with the right use of power.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Again, I’m not a cynical person, but I’m a realist, and I’m like, “Can we get there? Can we get there, Cedar?” [Laughs]
Dr. Cedar Barstow: We absolutely get there in therapy. That’s where I see it the most.
Rebecca Ching: Sure.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: So 30, 40 years ago, the therapists and psychologists, their job was to figure out what was wrong with you and tell you what to do about it. Your personal information was not particularly valued.
Rebecca Ching: Right. Right.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: But in IFS, in Hakomi, in all of these new psychotherapeutic methodologies we absolutely depend on the information. Our clients are experts on their own experience.
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: We’re experts on the healing method that we bring to their experience. I call that collaborative because I’m not giving up my role power. I’m not saying I won't take charge here. My method I’m going to use to help take charge so that my client can fall apart knowing that I’m holding the container that’s part of my role responsibility, which is a hierarchical responsibility.
Rebecca Ching: No question in the therapist or coach/client dynamic in that smaller ecosystem, I cosign that. I’m tracking that. Let’s do this. Let’s talk about status power, and then I want to kind of circle back to this hierarchical collaborative conundrum that I now have. How do you define status power?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Status power is additional power that is culturally conferred. It often goes unrecognized by those who hold it, and since we have multiple social locations, our status power combinations are unique.
It depends on cultural values and may change from culture to culture. Examples of status power include race, age, ability, gender, socio-economic status, for example. So enter status power and you have instant complexity.
Rebecca Ching: And instant reasons why folks view power as harmful or see it as something that they want to reject, work against, or deny.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: And further --
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: -- status power is so messed up and embedded in systemic power --
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: -- which causes huge amounts of harm and continues to and continues to and continues to. So that’s kind of the next level of where right use of power is trying to work is in status, collective, and systemic power, which adds so much more to the equation.
Rebecca Ching: There have been very few places that I feel like I’ve gotten close to maybe a hierarchical place where personal, role, and status power were used well. I feel like, again, because of the identities I hold, status power, like you said in the definition, I’m not always aware of it, right? I get to move in and out of spaces because of the identities I hold without thinking much about it. And so, how I even use my personal power, because of my status power, can impact how I use my role power.
And so, I’m just thinking that through and thinking through a lot of these organizations that are clinging to a hierarchical model that really, I think, conflates role and status power while diminishing personal power --
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yes.
Rebecca Ching: -- as kind of just the way it is.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yes, that’s how it works. I agree. That’s most often what happens. I think that’s one of -- the DEI world is trying to work on shifting that around, and with more and less success.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: I like the fact that I now hear in the DEI world adding in belonging. That makes sense to me, and I can also understand because of the complexities of adding systems and status in, it makes the hierarchy even more difficult and challenging to manage in the way I was talking about as collaborative.
Rebecca Ching: Leading is hard. Leading is also often controversial as you navigate staying aligned with your values, your mission, and boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions, but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid about your plan and action. Finding a coach who understands the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small.
Now, leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights. It is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future feels so unknown and the doubts and pains from your past keep showing up to shake things up.
Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism at bay and foster a hope that is both actionable and aligned.
When the stakes are high and you don't want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict and intense emotions between your ears and with those you lead, and when time is of the essence and you want to make some hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader Coaching is for you where you want to deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than you were taught.
To start your Unburdened Leader Coaching process with me go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can’t wait to hear from you!
So when did you decide and why decide to add collective and systemic power to these different types of power that you identify?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: That comes from my now successor, Dr. Amanda Aguilera, who took this and said, “Oh, yes. And we need to evolve it now,” after 35 years. We need to evolve it in the direction of working with status power more and those complexities, adding in collective power and systemic power, all of which are neutral. They're actually neutral, all of these. It’s how we use them. Well, status power, it is neutral. How we use it ends up with racism, sexism, every -ism there is.
Rebecca Ching: Right.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: And that’s a bad use of it. I would say there was even such a thing as status power, but some of the status power, like the status that you get if you’ve -- I will always set the status in Right Use of Power Institute, even though I’m not the executive director anymore. Amanda is. So she now has up power to me, and I have up status to her, and it’s so interesting for us to learn how to weave those together because I need to learn how to use my up status with up status power in a way that continues to honor her role power and not keep pulling it back toward me, you know what I mean?
Rebecca Ching: Totally! No, I'm tracking. You're in an interesting power shift as you retire and move into a different role, and I think that language is curious. But here’s what I’m stuck on a little bit. Especially with status power, in particular, and the neutrality -- I think you're not saying status is 100% neutral, but if I am holding identities that don't carry status power, I’m stuck on how power can remain neutral totally. Does that make sense what I’m stuck on? I get the personal power piece, but with the intersection of status power with role power…
Dr. Cedar Barstow: It’s so sticky, and that’s where I think -- this comes from Amanda, actually. I want to credit her with that. She’s talking about how if you have culturally assigned lower power, like in The States being a person of color or a woman, then you need to keep developing and put way more energy, or you do, into developing your personal power. Whereas a man or as a white person, you tend to unfairly rest on your privilege and not develop your personal power so much.
So you get overidentified with your status privileges and think that’s you. This principle sounds very simple, and it can be so freeing, and it can be so confusing.
I want to say about the conversation about status power that I am still in big learning mode, and I suspect I said some things in it that might have caused some ouches. And so, I just want to say I’m really learning, and I’m sorry for any ouches, particularly people of color. I make mistakes all the time, and I’m just doing my best to learn.
Rebecca Ching: Okay, we could go down a long rabbit hole with this, but I want to move onto a few things that you talk about in your approaches because my listeners love tools and frameworks that help them navigate leadership. So I want to make sure -- again, hopefully this conversation is just gonna be an amuse-bouche for folks to dive deeper into your book, into your work.
But I want to start off with the 150% Principle, which I love. You talk about it as when there’s a difference in power -- and this maybe is a good segue for what we’re talking about -- the responsibility is not equal. Both parties are 100% responsible for the relationship’s health, but the person in the up-power role is 150% responsible for tracking problems and resolving and repairing them.
And so, I’m curious. How does this approach help leaders navigate breaches of trust, especially when there are differences in role and status power? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Okay, so the 150% Principle, and I believe that applies to status power, up-status power, as well as role power. So, often, (and I’ve been tracking grievance processes for years and years and years) so many of them end up escalating into a grievance process where it’s a mistake or an intention that was different than impact that, had the person knowing the 150% Principle could have said, “Oh, my gosh. That looks like something happened here that I want to talk about,” and could have addressed it and worked it out right then. But instead, they said, “Oh, well, you never told me you were hurt,” and they weren't taking the responsibility for tracking when something was off, and they weren't taking more responsibility for a project getting completed on time. They weren't taking their responsibilities seriously enough. So this just seems to be helpful, and you said it was helpful to you.
Now, it can also feel like a huge burden, right? I have to take 50% more responsibility? How am I gonna take care of myself? I’m already exhausted and stressed. It’s actually meant not to be a burden with just a deeper awareness of what is involved in saying yes to the responsibilities that go with your role. One of the responsibilities is also taking good care of yourself because we are much more likely to cause harm when we aren't taking good care of ourselves. Self-care is an ethical imperative, really, not just a wouldn't it be nice.
Rebecca Ching: But it’s also a role imperative that often we’re not taught, and it’s easy, especially in a lot of the personal and professional development spaces when someone’s struggling, or if a leader feels a little blindsided by feedback or an experience, we just default to blame. “Oh, well, you never let me know,” or, “You just have a bad mindset,” or something like that that just diminishes the courage for someone finally speaking up because there’s a lot at stake with role (and often if it’s commingled with status) power.
So I really appreciate that, and I think it’s a really powerful thing to teach when we’re training and raising up leaders and even how we see ourselves of responsibility and the ethics of our power, then saying I’ve got to take a little bit more ownership of here because of the different role powers that I hold.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yeah, and if I have status power privileges, then I need to be 150% responsible for how I use those.
Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: And trying to use those for good instead of to further the status quo.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and if we’re just focusing on self-protection, right, then we’re not gonna be able to return to the relationship. So another favorite tool of mine that you write about is the Spiral-Down Process. This one’s probably harder to do without visuals. [Laughs] But I’m curious how you would envision leaders using that in practice, especially for those in up-power and status-power roles.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: As I was designing this, I wanted it to be really useful in a positive way, like power-positive way. I began thinking about how I like fours. I like the four directions. I like fours. I thought maybe there are four dimensions of power that each has its own skills and awarenesses and inner work, but can be useful to leaders in a difficult spot. Here’s a challenging situation. What happens if you look at it from each of these four dimensions? One of them is the dimension of being informed and present. In a situation that’s difficult, a leader might say, “Okay, is there information I’m missing here? Am I really present to what’s going on?”
The second would be to be compassionate and aware, that dimension. And that’s looking at the difficulty and saying, “Is there a way that I’m just stuck in my own anger or my own opinion here and need to be more aware about what my part in this is and more curious and compassionate?”
Then the third dimension is be connected and accountable. This focuses on the relationship. “What’s going on in this difficult relationship? Have I gotten disconnected? Is that causing a problem? Is there some other accountability that I need to understand and take on?”
Then the fourth is be skillful and proactive, and this relates to the skills that are required to use power wisely and well. The skill of being able to give and receive feedback well, for example.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: That might involve connecting with somebody else, a colleague or advisor, and how can I be proactive in the future based on what I learned from this experience.
Rebecca Ching: What I love about this framework and these quadrants that you created, it just is a real -- as soon as maybe there is some sort of conflict, some sort of breach, it’s like this really cool YOU-turn and really specific questions to kind of look, and it’s a call to, “Where do I need support? Where are things that I’m missing and I’m not seeing?” If that is a habit with these kinds of questions and these different types of quadrants, especially focused on power, it really does -- for me, it’s led to further inquiry and clarification where the breach happened, right?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Good.
Rebecca Ching: It’s like, “Hey, I’m wondering more. Was this a miss?” if I’m missing something. Even that is a place where repair happens because my rumbling with that helps me not stay in an assuming role, like I’m just gonna have my experience. It really gets me into curiosity. It moves me towards clarity and compassion. So I really love this, and you write more about that in your book, so I encourage listeners to get the book and to read it [Laughs] because there are a lot more of these little kinds of practices in here that help us untangle from the burdens that we carry that have impacted how we see power.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: We also, with Right Use of Power Institute, have trainings in this that are very engaging and aligned and growing and valuable.
Rebecca Ching: And having just took the foundational one earlier this year, I cosign how valuable it is, and I look forward to taking more!
I want to wrap up with one question, though, for you. I’m curious how your understanding of a successful relationship, especially with power in mind, has changed since you were younger.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: You know, I think when I was younger I thought that a successful relationship was a conflict-free one.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Really.
Rebecca Ching: No, I’m like, “Yep!” We were sold that in the movies. [Laughs]
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yeah, we were! And now I understand that a successful relationship is one in which you can have courageous conflict conversations, work things out, and in working things out, the relationship goes deeper and deeper and has the option of going deeper and deeper. Sometimes courageous conversations end up with a conscious saying goodbye. But better to do it consciously than have it come out of a blow up that never gets attention.
Rebecca Ching: A place of reactivity, yeah. Wow, that’s powerful. One of the traditions I have on the show now is asking some fun quickfire questions. Are you ready for us to move into these?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Yep!
Rebecca Ching: Okay. So what are you reading right now?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Oh, the best book I have ever read.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, my goodness!
Dr. Cedar Barstow: It’s on the top of the New York Times Best Seller list, and it’s called Covenant with Water by Abraham Verghese. Oh, boy, do I recommend that. It’s about society in India, three generations. It just absolutely captivates you.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, gosh. I’ll add it to the list! What is the best TV show or movie you've seen recently?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Just finished with the Transatlantic. Oof, a seven-segment series. Really beautifully done. Also I just saw the new movie Hello God, It’s Me, Margaret.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh!
Dr. Cedar Barstow: By Judy Bloom.
Rebecca Ching: A legend.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: It’s beautifully done and really timely.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, and I often ask people about eighties pop culture, but from when you were a teenager, what would you say is kind of your favorite bit of pop culture from when you were growing up? Movies or shows or music.
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and musicals. I memorized all of the songs of the classic musicals.
Rebecca Ching: Awesome! What is your mantra right now?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Power with heart.
Rebecca Ching: Oldie but goodie. Steadfast for you. What is an unpopular opinion that you hold?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: I think maybe I have an opinion that people who are very different can actually find similarities and connections with each other if they want to and have some skill.
Rebecca Ching: You also taught me, too -- you’ve been saying that power is neutral is often an unpopular stance to take too, right?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Oh, oh, yeah. Yeah. And hierarchy is neutral.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] I’m still working on that one. [Laughs] Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Well, you've inspired me in this conversation, and Amanda inspires me. My dad and my mother. Lots. Right Use of Power Institute actually has a power-positive award every year where we pick an organization and a person and give them a power-positive award with a plaque. If I could offer one suggestion, we so often don't let the people who have affected us positively know.
And so, they never find out. So everybody out there listening, think of somebody that you want to appreciate for how they use their power, and let them know! It’ll make their day!
Rebecca Ching: It will. That’s a powerful call to action. Thank you so much for that, Dr. Barstow. Where can people find you and the Right Use of Power work if they want to get involved and learn more?
Dr. Cedar Barstow: www.rightuseofpower.org.
Rebecca Ching: Awesome, and we’ll make sure to put all kinds of links related to this show in the show notes. I know that we only did the tip of the iceberg with our conversation, and I am honored that you took this time to talk with me. I’ve been so impacted and moved by your work. It’s been very timely, and it’s just an honor to share it with other people, especially now through this incredible conversation. So thank you for joining me today!
Dr. Cedar Barstow: Well, this was so exciting, and I had so much fun!
Rebecca Ching: Okay, before you go, I want to ensure you take away some valuable insights from this important conversation with Dr. Cedar Barstow. Now, I know for me, thinking about power as neutral and ethics as a right use of power in right relationship with others has been a game changer for me to changing how I think about and talk about power. Cedar goes deeper into this in her book Right Use of Power and in her training institute, which I recommend highly.
Dr. Barstow also shared that ethics is not just this narrow, linear thing to focus on, but a living, exciting, dynamic, lifelong learning practice about our impact on how we lead in all areas of our lives. So I’m curious. What influences your definition of power, and what shifted for you as you listened to this conversation on power? And how can you cultivate more power with in the spaces you live and lead?
When we develop an ethic of right use of power in the spaces that we lead and live, we develop spaces that can have hard conversations while valuing all people and their experiences, and this is the ongoing work on an Unburdened Leader.
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. If this episode positively impacted you, I would be honored if you left a rating, a review, and shared it with a few people you think may benefit from it. All of these actions help more people hear about the show, and I am so grateful. You can find this episode, show notes, and the free Unburdened Leader resources, along with ways to work with me www.rebeccaching.com! And I am so grateful to the incredible team at Yellow House Media who helped me produce today’s episode!