By Tracy Theemes, who will be presenting Money Mindfulness at Hollyhock in August 2017.
I recently spoke to a group of mid-career female professionals about leadership, power and money.
This group was knowledgeable, courageous and focused. Talking about leadership was easy – we revere it, fund organizations dedicated to it, write books about it. It’s the holy grail of discussion topics. When we discuss leadership, good and evil, morality and values, everyone puts on their happy face.
But when we got into the areas of power and money, things got tense.
I asked them this question: “If you had unlimited power, what would you do with it? Take a few minutes and write down your ideas”…
They began to twitch. Half of this group, for instance, dismissed the idea out of hand, saying, essentially, no thanks. The notion of power had them running for the hills. Other answers were general in scope. I’d abolish world hunger. I’d eliminate fossil fuel use. I’d educate every person in the world.
There is often a disconnect between leadership, power and money, but if you have unlimited power, you can access money. All resources are available to you.
So, then I posed the question, “If you had unlimited money, what would you do?”
The answers ranged from looking after friends and family to buying a planet. These are not so much real objectives as they are dreams, hopes and to a large degree, fantasies.
With this experiment, three things became apparent:
- Women are more comfortable with money than they are with power. And that’s saying something!
- Goals they identified were beyond what any of them could ever hope to achieve in this lifetime with any amount of resources realistically available to them.
- For women, it’s almost always about others.
So, if your idea of power is to accomplish a world-changing event, it would make your everyday life seem trivial. Wielding power becomes a thing to fear and avoid. Just too overwhelming. Beyond any conceivable notion and personal capability.
This leads to a sense of inadequacy and maybe even hopelessness. It creates a sense of lack and self-deficiency. And what happens when it is all too much? We revert to our favourite form of inertia. Maybe, it’s better to do nothing.
Whereas many believe that money and power have a complicated relationship, they actually have a direct relationship. Let’s examine the differences.
Everyone has power. Some use it and some don’t. Unrealized power is unused potential. Power can be based on a personal energetic quality and is felt and experienced by others as charisma and leads to a form of influence based on relationships. Children in a school yard may have this charisma, so may a person who holds the affection of a business group but never leads the meeting. This is called referent power.
There is also legitimate power which has responsibilities, where the followers do not necessarily choose you, but follow anyway, like a political leader, police officer or CEO of the company you work for. The women in the group I was addressing this day were far more comfortable discussing referent power than legitimate power. And they admitted to being more at ease holding a back seat to power and calling it leadership.
Well, where does this lead us?
Most of us are not uncomfortable with money itself but rather with the perception we have of the responsibility money holds. And yet, money is the world’s current primary currency. Money can feed and clothe, kill and protect or destroy or restore. And those who have it make the decisions that affect us all. And if that’s not leadership, I don’t know what is!
So if it’s not money that we fear but power, how are we to move through this? How do we take on the fair share of our economic authority if it is the power inherent in it that terrifies us?
What is so terrifying about power? For many, power doesn’t make us feel strong and capable, it makes us feel unsafe. We know we are dealing here with ideas lodged in the deepest part of our being – the invisible domains that call the shots and lead us to places that confound us. This is no longer a discussion based on rationality or political correctness. What are we are truly experiencing here that prevents us from taking charge of our financial life? Taking our place at the decision-making tables of society?
Something deep and visceral seems to hold us back. A sense of danger so primal, so barely discernible at a conscious level that it keeps us in its grip by its very unknowingness. It is the inviolable, invisible force that knows us better than we know ourselves. So where does this come from and how will we eradicate it?
As I see it, there are two sources of this fear and reluctance to hold power. The stuff we are born with and the stuff we accumulate along the way. According to the emerging research in the field of epigenetics we are born holding patterns of experiences from our ancestors at a cellular level. This explains why the children of holocaust victims and survivors, or prisoners of war, have psychological and physical cellular composition and behavioural responses that cannot just be explained by their environment.
We are a combination of neurology, biology, environment, and gender. There are beliefs that emerge from our own experiences, the messages of our families and the influence of the culture that we were raised in. Yet, many of our ideas are formed below our levels of awareness or even consciousness. That is not a bad thing. It is just that we have to accept that it can be complicated and challenging. What it is not, is impossible to understand and overcome.
Each one of us has at any given time access to the aspects of ourselves that hold us back that also seed our greatness. With a willingness to become deep sea divers searching for ocean-bound treasure we can look inside and begin the process of bringing up the “loot”. We can catalogue it and manage it. The sheer act of exploration is exhilarating and empowering – far more so than holding on to a nameless terror and a reluctance to expand that serves neither us, nor our world.
Tracy Theemes has an MA in Counselling Psychology, is a Certified Financial Planner, Fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute and author. Prior to co-founding Sophia Financial Group in 2009, and starting www.tracytheemes.com, an online education platform in 2015, Tracy worked as a financial consultant with Smith Barney, a US brokerage firm and after returning to Canada was an advisor with a large bank-owned investment firm. Tracy was recently awarded the International Alliance of Women Global 100 Award for her work in empowering women through education.