Powerless = Systematically Starved of Information.
That's David's formulation. He distinguishes that situation from "lacking the authority to carry out" your responsibilities. The latter, he says, is a consequence of being an employee...work for somebody and you're likely to be neutered.
At TrueTalk, we've described the "I-R-I" organizational model: the organization's Identity, Relationships, Information. In this way of thinking, any enterprise defines itself by what it sets out to accomplish (its Identity), establishes an organizational structure and system of processes by which it will accomplish those objectives (a network of Relationships), and determines what kinds of data, conversations, materials, and so on, need to flow through those relationships to produce the requisite outcomes (what we broadly call, Information).
According to David's formulation, if you experience yourself as "powerless," you've been systematically deprived of the information you need to succeed; intentionally cut out of the loop. All well and good.
But what if you've narrowed the pipe through which that information is intended to flow? What if you've shut down the supply relationships and made it more difficult for others to share information with you?
It's crucial for you to look at your own behavior to appreciate the ways in which you've created your own "powerlessness." If you haven't looked at yourself first, you haven't done all the work you need to do.
Ask yourself this: what have I done to marginalize myself in this system?
Earlier today, an old friend (and boss) of mine told me a story of a mutual friend who's been President of a community hospital in a poor Pennsylvania community for several years. She's a terrific person, smart as they come, and totally dedicated to delivering services to her community. Recently, her boss (these big hospital chains have lots of layers, don't they?) called her into the boss' office for a chat. "You've been doing great things in the community, FRIEND'S NAME, getting lots of outreach centers started, connecting with community groups and generally improving our hospital's image. Great work. But, that's not your job. Your job is running this hospital and you haven't done that very well, so, you're fired."
I looked at my old friend and said, "Whoa, no shit!" and let the story sink in. After a minute, I thought, "Wow, FRIEND'S NAME really screwed this up. She obviously didn't take care of some crucial relationships and they came back to bite her in the ass."
What occured to me was this. This situation hadn't just come up out of thin air. Obviously, she'd been "getting sideways" with the folks at corporate for some time; she just didn't know it. Why? She didn't pay enough attention to those relationships. Why? (Those Japanese really were onto something when they came up with that Five Why thing, weren't they?) Well, turns out she didn't really care too much for those corporate types. Why? Can't tell you, but, (as another good friend of mine often says) I'd bet a house payment that she didn't think they cared for the poor people in her community as much as she did. And, she may be right. But, it might have cost her her job. Needlessly, I say.
Why needlessly? Because she could have worked those relationships differently. She could have been seeking feedback from her corporate connections about how she was doing. She could have done a better job of imagining how they viewed her "successes" in her community from their point of view, instead of only seeing them from hers. She could have been more focused on doing the whole job, instead of just the part of it she wanted to do.
Look, David's right. There are "cruel people" who believe their survival depends on keeping others in the dark, and, therefore, powerless. These bastards are not at all interested in your well being. But it's important for you to also look in the mirror and figure out what role you play in this little drama. Remember, they don't fire everyone. And some people find a way to succeed, even in less than ideal systems (which, by the way, most places are.)
If you're feeling powerless, chances are you're not just along for the ride.