In a room, the seat facing the entrance is generally considered the position of power. This is because it is inside looking out, is protected from behind, and provides the optimum vantage-point from which to survey the situation. This position is considered by many to be much stronger than sitting with your back to the entrance. This position is considered to be optimal in negotiations, for example, but only if you’re playing for win-lose (which I don’t recommend).
I usually let my wife, Cindy, take that position of power when we are together. I have been doing this because I knew intuitively that she prefers it and because I’m comfortable sitting in any position. We have discussed how she always prefers to sleep on the side of the bed farthest from the bedroom door, with me between her and the door, because this makes her feel safer. However, until today, I had not consciously extended that understanding to seating positions.
Today, we were sitting with some friends for brunch, and I gave Cindy the most powerful position at the table before I randomly took the second most powerful position. I said, “I always give Cindy the position of power.” And then I noticed the quiet conversation between our friends, who are a couple. It turned out that she was trying to ensure the he got a seat in a position of power. When I asked about it, he revealed that he likes to sit facing the entrance because it feels safer. Wow, mind blown.
Since I don’t really care where I sit, I moved out of the second-to-most powerful position and encouraged him to move into my seat. His wife and I agreed that we’re happy to sit in any position, and we were all happy that those who needed to feel physically protected were supported in having that.
This totally changed my perception of what the position of power is. I realized that it’s not really a position of power. It’s actually a position of safety. It’s a position that is needed when there is a sense of insecurity. And there is nothing wrong with insecurity; we all have insecurities of one kind or another.
So it turns out that the position of power is also a position of insecurity. This reminded me of people who seem to need to be in positions of power and control in other areas of life. I could see more clearly how that need doesn’t stem from being inherently “powerful” or from being “strong,” but from feeling insecure, and from needing to compensate by being in a position of power and control.
But what my friend demonstrated was a whole other level of power. He was able to, with support from his wife, advocate for his need for physical safety and security. He had the courage to reveal his human vulnerability and seek to get his needs met in a way that was a net gain for everyone.
My friend demonstrated that not only is the position of power also a position of insecurity, but also a position of courage. It takes courage to reveal that you feel insecure and to take the steps to feel safer. It often takes a lot of courage to sit responsibly in a position of power when it’s truly needed.
I’m feeling a lot of appreciation for all the gracious and courageous leaders who are able to so openly display their insecurity by claiming the seats of power, and I’m grateful for those positions of power being occupied so responsibly. Bravo.