Fresh Insight

Using Power to Advance Your Career

by Francine Parham

Photo by Deirdre Ryan Photography

I started my career right out of graduate school, hitting the “corporate trail,” as I call it, knowing that I wanted to succeed. I had plans all along to become an executive. I looked at the org charts of leaders in the organizations I worked for,

declaring that to be my destiny.
I thought my continued progression depended not just on working hard, but showing others that I could work harder, better, and even faster than most. I had no problem with the notion of competing to claim my space. I was results driven, like many Black women in Corporate America.

What I failed to understand was that hard work was only a small component. The bigger item I needed to understand, master, and continuously practice was the concept of how power works— how to make it work for me, so that I could advance into higher leadership positions.

Understanding the concept of power was not just important in the beginning of my career; it became even more critical as I rose into executive-level jobs when the stakes became higher. I had more to lose. I discovered that just getting to a senior-level role doesn’t mean you get to stay there.

This is contrary to what we often witness: that others who don’t look like us are able to make and maintain certain achievements. As a matter of fact, as a senior leader of color, it becomes even riskier if you don’t understand what power is and how it works in your organization so you can ensure it’s working for you.

So what is power?

It’s one’s ability to influence others.

When I work with organizations or speak to their rising female talent, especially their women of color, I tell them it is important to start by knowing who the influential individuals are within their organization. They need to pay close attention not only to who those people are but how they get things done. Understanding this becomes a huge asset to career advancement, no matter what level you are at or what your aspirations are. Power comes from knowing those in power, having the right relationship with them, and being able to influence them—not only to get things done but as a key strategy for your advancement.

Where do you start?

Start by asking those you trust how you are viewed or what is said about you. Take that feedback to develop your professional narrative. This is where your power starts and stays, and what you have control over. The narrative you create will help you leverage the right relationships and influence the outcomes that you want for yourself and your career advancement. DW

Francine Parham is the founder and CEO of Francine Parham & Co., a professional development company that partners with organizations to prepare their women and women of color at all levels to advance in the workplace. Francine’s latest book, Please Sit Over There: How to Manage Power, Overcome Exclusion and Succeed as a Black Woman at Work (Berrett-Koehler Publishers), helps women, women of color, leaders, allies, and their institutions understand the concept of power and its importance in the workplace.


“The importance of understanding the concept of power in your workplace is critical to your career success and ultimately your professional advancement.”

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