The distinction between feeling powerless and powerful

The good news is that you can shift from one state of mind to the other.

Steffan Surdek
September 13, 2021
Suzanne d williams VMKBFR6r jg unsplash

Your mindset and your worldview has a big impact on how you face the challenges in your life. In my work, I meet a lot of dormant leaders or leaders that have a fear of stepping into their leadership.

I find that in both cases, when people share their stories, they talk about how powerless they feel. They tell me about how they either gave up or will never be able to change a situation.

This article will explore the mindset shift between feeling powerless and powerful.

A quick story for context

I had a powerful life experience with my friend David a long time ago. We were attending a seminar together and sharing a room which gave us time to talk and catch up.

At the time, I was working as a consultant and had trouble fitting in with my team. One night, I shared my frustrations with him and it sounded something like this:

  • "They are not good enough, they are not meeting my standards... They are not interested in being better! I can't teach these people anything, they don't get it. I am going to lower the bar and put as little effort as I can into pushing people forward... It will be better for everyone!"

Thinking about this now, I can see how powerless I felt in that moment. It seemed like washing my hands of it was the best solution but I was also giving up. My friend listened to my stories and decided to do what he called a transparency check with me:

  • Him: "Tell me, where is the leadership in that? Where is the courage? You are NOT being a leader right now! You produce quality work and it is easy for you. Waiting for them to discover greatness while you look on from above is not leadership!"
  • Me: "But you do not understand... it is a waste of effort to fight that battle, they do not want to change!"
  • Him: "Tell me, did you have an actual conversation about this with your teammates or do you just get mad?"
  • Me: "Well... but..."
  • Him: "But it’s hard? Tough luck Sherlock… That is life! Let me tell you this one more time, so that it can sink in. YOU ARE NOT SHOWING ANY COURAGE. YOU ARE NOT BEING A LEADER. You should stop that, it does not seem to be working out very well for you!”

And BOOM! With those words, he rattled me big time! It was a tough discussion and I did not expect my friend to challenge me like that.

Reflecting on the discussion though, I realized that he was right and I was taking the easy way out.

The mindset of being powerless

What is your personal version of the story I shared? It may be about a team you worked on or a specific situation you encountered. I worked with many people who expressed similar types of feelings about their teams.

The common theme I see is the mindset people have in those moments. What is your default mindset in life? Do you see challenges as unresolvable issues or possibilities to explore? Are you a victim of life or the author of your own destiny?

What you believe and how you see the world will have you curl up in a ball or take a stand. People who feel powerless typically cannot see new possibilities by default. They will find all the reasons why they cannot do something and maintain the status quo.

At the time of that story I shared, all I wanted was for us to be a great team, but that was not always clear to them. So when I tried something and they reacted to me, I reacted back to them based on my own stories and beliefs. Their reactions fed my negative beliefs about them and it created a vicious circle.

Flipping your mindset to be more powerful

Changing how you choose to look at a problem will completely flip your mindset around how to handle it. Focusing on why it will not work or why and how it is not possible is not productive.

With one of my clients, we were working on a problem once and they proposed a solution. I did not like their solution because I could see the other problems it would cause. I could hear my own resistance show up in what I was telling them and ended up calling myself out on it.

At one point, I told them: "You can hear that I do not like this solution right? My resistance to it is very strong..." and I laughed at myself. Then I flipped it around and told them: "Look, I may not agree but if I wanted this solution to work, this is what I would consider..."

The key to powerfully flip your mindset around is letting go of what you believe is an absolute truth. In a group discussion for example, what if you are right and others are also right? What if your truth is not as true and solid as you believe? What if your truth is actually NOT the solution to this problem?

Another absolute truth you can let go of is that your problem is not a solvable one. Try some lateral thinking. Ask yourself: What you would do if you wanted to make this possible?

Finally, another absolute truth could be around your belief that people do not want to change. To wrap up the story I shared about my team at the time, I learned that changing my behaviour changed theirs as well. I noticed people were more open to discussion when I was open to real discussion as well. I noticed when I listened and understood their fears, I was able to get a lot more traction to create change.


It is very easy to go from feeling powerless to feeling powerful. It is all a question of your mindset and your beliefs. What you focus on is what you will create.

A simple and basic example of this is something I like to tell my kids. When I hear them say something like: "I cannot do this", I ask them to add "right now" at the end. Saying "I cannot do this right now" is a simple change that can make a big difference.

When you find yourself stuck, try asking the reverse question. "What would I do if I wanted this to work or wanted this to happen?" Your brain will focus on the problem in a completely different way.

When you explore challenges from a place of limitations and scarcity, it holds you back. It can keep you in the status quo for a very long time!

Take one of the biggest challenges you are facing right now in your life. Instead, choose to explore challenges from a place of possibility. Once again, what you focus on is what you will create!

How can you flip your mindset to go from a place of feeling powerless to feeling powerful and empowered?

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams