Geoff Aigner Interviews Julie Diamond on her new book Power: A User’s Guide
Geoff recently caught up with Julie Diamond to talk more about power, her new book and how we can bring more awareness and insight into how we use our power in the world.
Geoff: So Julie, what made you write this book?
Julie: I’ve been interested in Power since my graduate studies back in the 80s. I’ve always been interested in how malleable and contested power is. I see it everywhere. Even kids – they test power with each other and their parents. Yet, its like we have a split personality. On the one hand we think of is as monolithic and distinct from us and on the other hand we grab it, contest it, direct it. It’s fascinating. It is both a systemic, structural fact, but it also exists as a behavior and way of being in the world. For democracy to work we have to master power as a behavior.
Geoff: What’s your core message?
Julie: I want people to really recognise the multiple paths to power and the many versions of power. Unfortunately, we don’t mine the powers we have. We have a “grass is always greener” approach to power. This means we don’t value our own unique sources of power.
Geoff: That’s possibly easy for you to say? You have quite a bit of mainstream power – your white, educated, live in the US, etc?
Julie: Well I do and I don’t. You have only pointed out where I have power and not where I don’t. Nonetheless, I think a lot of this has to do with personality and how we were raised – regardless of our mainstream rank. So how have we been valued? And how have we been taught to value ourselves? What difficulties have we faced? Overcoming these difficulties can lead to immense power. Indeed, my research shows that there is no formula for predicting who will see and use their power.
Geoff: That’s good news isn’t it?
Julie: Hmmm…Yes. I think so. It means there are many diverse paths to power.
Geoff: How has writing this book made you think about your power?
Julie: Well, I started writing it 10 years ago and then stopped. When I came back to it in the last few years, I sent a proposal to an agent. He challenged me, “If it’s a user’s guide you have to put yourself more in the book!” That meant I couldn’t distance myself and my own understanding about my power from this book.
Geoff: You obviously took that advice.
Julie: Yes, I had to bring my experience and I had to be much more clear and directive. It really challenged me. I asked myself, “can I just say what I think and tell people what I think?” Can I be clear and strong… out there?
Geoff: Sounds like you had to really do what you were asking your readers to do. Was that a pivotal moment?
Julie: Yes. And it took someone else to see what I had to offer to make me use it.
Geoff: I guess that’s often the case with power – that it is hard to see our own power – for whatever reason. You are imploring people to understand and own their power. How do you think that will play-out in the margins?
Julie: Having worked with a lot of social activists and people on the margins of social power, I have learned that an overemphasis on positional power has diminishing returns and often leads to burn out. The book goes to the personal resources - looking for the various powers that people have beyond position, colour, gender, etc.
Geoff: So, why Julie? Who are you to write this book?
Julie: It reminds me of a time when I was out skiing with (my teacher) Arnold Mindell. We were talking about writing. I said I wanted to write about something but I didn’t know enough about that topic. He said, “Why would you write about something you already knew? – It would be so boring”. I think most good things are like that… we are driven to create at our own learning edges.
Geoff: You ask your readers to think about deeper, less ephemeral sources of power. Spirituality is an important part of this it seems. Do you have a spiritual practice?
Julie: I grew up in a very secular Jewish family. But, nature was probably more of my spiritual path. When I was a child, my plan was to go off and live in the wilderness. I was devastated when I realized that a career as a homesteader wasn’t really in the cards for me.
Geoff: How is that manifesting in what you are trying to bring forward now?
Well, nature is so terrifying. What comes to mind is the incredible power and ruthlessness of nature - it’s an equalizer. I do feel that the greatest personal power we have (rather than structural or social) is the most ephemeral.
Geoff: That’s certainly a more interesting and three-dimensional idea of power when you describe it that way.
Julie: This is the power that gets you through the worst moments – you reach for things that are very spiritual and transpersonal.
Geoff: What’s your hope for how power is conceived and used in the bigger world?
Julie: It would be great if it we tried to be more embodied in the practice of power. If we could bring more awareness and insight into how we are in our roles and be less focused on structure. The feudal reflex really irks me. It’s so easy to just say, “get that person out” or “just change the structure”.
Geoff: Beyond reading your book if you could encourage people to do one tangible thing this year on this subject what would it be?
Julie: Ask people “how am I doing using my power? Any advice?’ And to quote one of my teachers, Marshall Goldsmith, when you ask that question and you get an answer, try to just say “thank you” in response.
Geoff: That sounds like quite a vulnerable thing to do – but important. It also makes me think about how power and vulnerability go together.
Julie: Yes, if you can be vulnerable, that is the ultimate power. Nothing can come at you – you’re not protecting anything.
Geoff: So you’ve published a book - what now?
Julie: I’m developing a coaching program and assessment tool on how people use their power. I’m also further developing our work with women in leadership.
Geoff: Where’s you passion and curiosity being called at the moment?
Julie: I’m struggling, troubled and fascinated by public discourse – the trolling, partisanship, flaming, etc. and its hostility. The internet has created an echo chamber with a lack of accountability. I am really troubled and I’d like to do something about this phenomenon.
Find out more about Julie Diamond, her book POWER: A User’s Guide and her latest projects at her website www.juliediamond.net
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