In her book Good Power, former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty challenges the negative connotations often associated with the concept of power. She argues that power can be a force for good, and that “building belief” is at the heart of good power.
Building belief involves creating an environment in which people voluntarily want to do something, rather than being ordered to do so out of fear. Rometty suggests that co-creating the future with others, rather than dictating it, is a key element of building belief. It is important to make the process personal by showing empathy for those involved and being authentic and honest about the challenges ahead.
Rometty draws on her own experiences to illustrate these principles. For example, when IBM acquired PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, she acknowledged the risks involved and showed empathy for the changes employees would have to go through. Ultimately, Rometty believes that building belief and empowering others — rather than attempting to sway them with money — is key to being a successful leader. She urges leaders to focus on building their own power first and then using that power to influence and inspire others toward a common goal.
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GINNIE ROMETTY: So what do you think about when you think of the word "power"? I think many people think power is self-serving: it helps just one person. I think people often think that power is perhaps a very negative. It's an order- you're not voluntarily doing something. And often people think that with it comes fear. So you act in the name of fear. And to me, that is not what power has to be, and it doesn't have to be unilateral in any sort of way. One of the most important things I learned in my career was that you can do very hard, meaningful things, but you can do them in a positive way. That's what I call "good power."
I'm Ginni Rometty. I'm the former chairman, president, and CEO of IBM. Today, I co-chair an organization called OneTen, and I'm the author of "Good Power."
So when I think of good power, one of its important principles is to build belief. In many ways, it is the heart of good power because you're voluntarily going to do something versus be ordered or told or comply to do it. I think part of building belief sometimes is more what you do than what you say. I will always remember a trip to Japan. It was on the heels of, many people might remember, Fukushima. And at the time, many people, if you were not a citizen of Japan, they were fleeing Japan. Many companies sent their expats back home. We had a very large team, 20, 30,000 people – many did not leave, by the way. I had been assured it was safe there, but I'll always remember walking through the airport when I landed. There was no one there. And when I went to customs, the gentleman said to me, "Are you sure you want to come in?" I said, "Yes, I'm sure." And I could do nothing but listen to people, visit customers, thank them, and just listen to the stories of what people had been through. It's many years ago. To this day, people remember that. It is a little bit related to that old Maya Angelou saying that says, "You may not remember exactly everything I said. But you will remember how I made you feel." That is the essence of build belief. How do I make you feel? That you want to do something, you voluntarily want to do it, therefore you're going to use all this discretionary energy in the odds of success. Again, whether it's your job, at home or a mission you're on for the world, makes a world of difference.
I think there's a few things you can learn about building belief. One: Don't dictate it. Co-create the future with someone so they want to voluntarily create it, co-create it, be part of it, and use all their discretionary energy. It will build buy-in at the end of the day, so it's that old, 'an ounce of work upfront is going to save an awful lot of work at the other end,' because if we've kind of agreed on this, then my ability to execute it is going to be way better.
The second idea: If you really want to build belief, it's got to be personal with people. When we acquired a company called PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, a huge consulting firm, into IBM, at the time, there'd been probably five other big consulting acquisitions – had all failed. "You're acquiring hearts," as I would say, not parts, meaning these assets could walk right out the door. I finally realized if I didn't succeed, I'd be fired. That's a very personal feeling. And I told people, "Look, you think it's risky for you? "I think it's risky for me too." You share that. But also, personal meaning having empathy. I have great empathy for the change people had to go through. The way they used to live, the titles they had, the way they were paid, all that changed, and I had to have empathy to understand, as they say, 'What their old house looked like because the new house was going to be different.'
The third thing is about being authentic and honest to build belief because this is not about rah, rah! "Oh yes, let's go do something." There's a great saying; I'm going to paraphrase it. It's actually Napoleon: It says, "The role of a leader is to paint reality and then give hope. Because there's no straight road to success when things are not going well." And that idea of being really honest with people about where it was, but then you hear are the examples and the ways and the things that could make it great, the give hope side. I have probably drawn on that thought just a million times over my career, but all that's part of building belief. I learned the most about that through my work experiences. So many of them have to do with bringing people along.
In the beginning, it's really about the power you yourself have, the power of me. It's what you can change. And then as time goes on, you think about, "Well, I can influence more than myself," and maybe it is about doing things with and for other people. So think about whoever inspired you, or how do you inspire other people to accomplish something? At the end of the day, is your job, when you hire people, is it to buy them or build them? I think it's to build them.