Accessing our Infinite Power: Change Agency and Abundance with “In Your Power” author Dr. Sharon Melnick

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

You can also listen on iTunesStitcher, and Google Play.

This episode features an interview with coach, speaker and author Dr. Sharon Melnick as she discusses her new book In Your Power: React Less, Regain Control, Raise Others. Discover the difference between being in your power versus being in power and how to redefine power as a source for good. Learn how being in your power is an ultimate form of self-care and how to use breathing exercises to ground yourself.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:


DR. SHARON MELNICK: In the book, I go pretty in depth with some guidelines and some recommended approaches for how to think through and how to script sharing your powerful truth. So these are in the In Your Power book, the powerful truth portal. The most important thing is that you own the narrative. You can determine when it leaves you and projects out into the world, how it's going to be received by others by the way that you are intentional and you own the narrative.

Sharing your powerful truth is a very, very powerful feather in our quiver, and it's not the only one. It's to be used in concert with things that I talk about in the other power portals like how to protect yourself and how to set boundaries. Also, I think what's relevant here is how to engage people in solving joint problems, especially when they don't think that the problem is theirs.



DOUG FORESTA: The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author, and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards the new, more inclusive workplace reality. She's a passionate inclusion and equity advocate, committed to helping leaders foster healthier and, therefore, more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. Now, onto the episode.

Hello and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. This episode features Dr. Sharon Melnick as she discusses her new book, In Your Power: React Less, Regain Control, Raise Others. I do want to mention before we get into the interview that you can listen to episode 161, which features Jennifer being interviewed on Dr. Sharon Melnick's podcast, The Power Shift Podcast. So check that out. That's episode 161. In this episode, Jennifer and Dr. Melnick discuss what it means to live in your power, all this and more. Now, onto the conversation.


JENNIFER BROWN: Sharon, welcome to The Will to Change.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: I'm so honored to be here.

JENNIFER BROWN: I'm excited. I've known you, oh, my goodness, 25 years. Long time friends.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Wow. So many discussions we've had around this topic.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, yes, and I've been waiting for this book, waiting for you to write this book, for someone to write this book, and specifically for you to write it for all of those years. I feel like you've been building up to it. This is one of our, as friends and fellow coaches and women in the world, members of different communities of identity that we share, this is a recurring theme for us. You have written such an amazing resource. I mean, literally, this is the kind of book that you open to any page, and there are pearls that are so relevant, frequently relevant to me and everything I know about people that listen to The Will to Change and the things that we struggle with.

There is perhaps no more important discussion than the one about power right now in my world and in myself and in my own journey too, Sharon. So I want this to be as personal as we can make it too because for me, it's been a struggle and ultimately such an opportunity to claim, reclaim, claim, redefine, leverage, utilize my own power. That is, really, my founder journey, my entrepreneur journey, my journey as an LGBTQ person and somebody that has worked so hard to solidify my voice and really stand in that power that you write about and leverage, utilize it, recognize how much I can do with it in the world and where it comes from and what interrupts it.

This whole book describes all of the rabbit holes, all of the derailers, the distractions from the power that we have and the way that the world needs us to utilize it because now more than ever, as you will agree, we have so much to do. Each one of us has so much to contribute and we are underutilizing what we have access to, but we're also in ways getting in our own way and, also, the world is getting in our way just like it always has, but we certainly need to realize all the messages in this book, which is to say we have complete agency, and this is one, you and I have kicked around this word. We love this word, agency. We have so much agency, we really do.

So let's get to it. Let's talk about it. So this is your second commercially published book, but for The Will to Change audience that's listening to this, the book just came out this week, so congratulations. How are you feeling?

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Thank you. Thank you. It's so exciting, and I just want to thank you so much for what you've said, and I see you being in your power. That's the whole thing is when a leader is in her power, she raises everyone around her. That is the opportunity that we all have. I think one of the things that you just spoke to is a distinction that I think can be helpful for us just at a basis, which is there's being in your power and then there's using your power for the good of all. I think that that's the full scope of what we're talking about when we're talking about being in our power.

JENNIFER BROWN: That's right. You say there's a difference also in your power versus in power, which I thought was powerful.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Yeah. Well, let's just start off there, actually, because I think when we hear the word power, we have a complicated relationship to it. Many of us go to that place of, "Oh, power is force. It's selfish, manipulative, nefarious," and it's something that we don't want, right? So really, I'm trying to redefine power because I think for people who come across in that way, what we're thinking of as power, they might be in power, so they might be in a position of power, but it means they're not in their power.

So the way that they act is not inclusive. They don't have an abundance mindset, so they have to take power for themselves. They don't see their opportunity to grow power in others. They might be insecure in themselves. So then they might use people or have to exclude people. I mean, there's all matter of abuses of power, but I do think that that's a key distinction because we are here to redefine power, redefine power as a source for good, as a force for good, and as a force for good for all.

Every one of us has this within us, and as you were referring to, I think that this is what the world needs. I think there's such an awakening now that the world is not as it should be, and that we, using our voices and using the power that we have, are creating a realignment. Really, we're going to get into it and I can't wait, but just as a way of thinking about it is when you're in your power, you change the power dynamic in any situation. So it can start with you.

JENNIFER BROWN: That's profound. Yes. We have more than we know and we have more control, I think, than we realize, and we can feel that so many externalities happen to us, right? I was thinking as I was reading your book that one of the top questions I get or complaints that I get in all the teaching that I do and all the events is, "Oh, my leadership just doesn't get it," or, "I don't feel respected," "It's all happening to me in the organizational context." Sometimes, yes, that's because of identity, that's because of bias, unfortunately. All of these things are alive and well, and we're frustrated with the lack of action or the way that power's being utilized, which isn't inclusive, and we're on the receiving end of this.

So I think this book is so important for my audience and the folks that focus on making the world more inclusive alongside me and my team is the source of power for change is within us. It is absolutely accessible. We can be accountable for, we'll talk about this too, for our 50%, which I always think of you, and the example you use of the side of the street, "This 50% that I can affect. What can I own? What can I sign up for? What can I impact, and what is within my reach?" versus I think where we burn out is when we reach beyond and really take on and let these other forces impact us to disempower us, to make us feel small, to let that happen to us.

That's a choice. That's, to me, the big thrust of your book is there is so much we can do that that is not a necessity, that doesn't need to happen. We have so much agency in terms of affecting it, but we got to start with ourselves and notice when we're out of our power, when we're giving it up, which I think is resonant with me, you tell a story about a big opportunity that you had, that you literally dropped in your lap, and because you weren't in your power, you skirted it. You said no.

I want to share. When I was offered a TEDx talk, oh, gosh, 10 years ago or so, I almost said no, and I could really relate to the story that you open with. I wondered if you would share it with us. I almost said no, but then something in me said, "No, I am falling into this pattern that I have studied, that I teach, and then I am literally falling into the same thing that I teach people not to do," which is to say, "No, I'm not ready. No, I'm not enough. No, I need to go prepare more," or, "No, I need to be perfect before I can say yes to this. So I'm going to say no."

I just look back on that moment and I think that was one of the first examples that I forced myself to say yes, even though I was deeply uncomfortable, felt inadequate, that it wasn't a deserved invitation. When I said yes, I signed up for it, I did it, I was glad I did it. It was transformative, of course, as TEDs are, but just the fact that we try to wiggle out of our power too is fascinating to me.

I think this is very gendered. It's very related to our identities, very related to our scarcity mentalities, I think, around our conditioning, our lack of role models. It's all there, but I love that. So let me pause and just ask you to share that story because I found it really powerful.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: There's so much in it and it's this personal hook that we have inside of us that outside circumstances or even our own triggers can take us to that place where we feel not enough until we heal it in ourselves and tell a different story and then it can put you on a different trajectory as it did for you.

So where it started for me is early on in my career, I attended a rock concert in Washington, DC. It was actually put on by the human rights campaign, and it was one of these multi-artists, great. So I arrived early as the stands were filling, and there's this cluster of people over to my left, and I just looked over and there was one person that I recognized, and it was Tipper Gore, who was wife of the then Vice President Al Gore, and she was a champion for women's empowerment.

So without overthinking of it at all, I went right over her. I stuck up my hand, "Hi, I'm Dr. Sharon Melnick, and I do psychology research at Harvard Medical School, and I'm helping parents from difficult traumatic childhoods to be resilient and confident, break those intergenerational cycles and have the career contribution that they want and be the parent that they want," and whatever.

So her interest is piqued. We start to talk. It's like a little estrogen fest moment. At a certain point, she turns to her chief of staff and she says, "Melissa, would you get Dr. Melnick's contact information? We'd like to bring her down to the White House to share the policy implications of her research." Wow. So I head back on the plane to Cambridge. I write up a little something, I sent it off to Melissa. Actually, several weeks later, I'm lacing up my sneakers to go for a run and the phone rings, Melissa, and we start to talk. She tells me these initiatives that Tipper is doing, helping millions of people around the country.

My heart's beating outside of my chest. I'm like, "Wow, this is so exciting that I might be able to be a part of this." At a certain point, she pops the question and she says, "Will you come down to the White House to share the policy implications of your research?" So I picture myself around the table at the White House, and what do you think I said?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, man. I hate that.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Well, as you said, people say, "Of course you said yes." Well, actually, I said no. I didn't actually say no, but I said, "Well, I'm still figuring out the research. Let me get back to you," but essentially, I said no, and students of history will know that I didn't have another opportunity to do that. So I pictured myself around the table and I thought I don't think I'm smart enough and I have things going on and I'm overwhelmed and I don't know how I'll hand this. So I prioritized my own evaluation of myself over the contribution I could have made for millions of people.

So this is an example of where we give away our power and we make it subjective what we think about us rather than objective, which is the value that I can bring. So you really have to change your question from like, "Who am I to be around the table at the White House?" to, "Who can benefit from me using my voice and from me using my power?" and don't ever go into the room feeling alone. Think of all the people that you are championing in your organization, in your ERGs, in your community at large, in your ancestry, and bring all of those people, gather them in your imaginary arms and bring them into the table, around the table with you so that you don't give away your power too.

JENNIFER BROWN: You are never alone. I mean, just imagine. I think of the Trojan horse a lot and the army within the horse. So the horse is wheeled up to the castle walls, and the horse is a gift. So the castle walls are opened for that horse. Of course, then it's certainly a war metaphor because the army is unleashed inside the castle, but look at it in a positive way, you aren't alone. You carry the hopes and dreams intergenerationally with you. Also, you are a messenger, you are a representative. Yes, that might sound like a heavy burden, but I mean it as inspiration. I feel what you just described as those of us who can get inside the castle walls because of perhaps privileges that we possess, whether those are earned or unearned, doesn't matter, we aren't alone, but we are forwarding something that is so much bigger than we are.

To me, that makes me feel justified in being there. I think there's a piece of this, "Who am I?" I think you raised that, right? "Who am I? Am I ready? I'm not ready. I don't know enough. What if I don't show up well?" I mean, all those things, putting those to the side and saying, "I'm here for a different reason. I'm here to commune ..." People sometimes see us and the power in us before we see it ourselves, I think.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Yeah, which is why it's so important to be a mentor, a sponsor, an ally to pass that forward. I wanted to go back to something that you were talking about earlier, which is the burnout that can come from being a practitioner and a messenger in this field. I think we used to think of burnout in a traditional sense of too much to do. Really, the fastest path to burnout these days is too little control and too much mental swirl.

So in terms of getting back into your power, there's many things that a practitioner in this field can do. One thing that's really ironic and we want to take this in the right way is that, actually, the research shows that the people who are the most engaged can be the most set up to be burnt out.

So it's like you really, really have to take care of yourself. I think all the things that we think of traditionally in terms of massages, manicures, Martinis with friends or whatever like, "Yes, have at it. Have fun. Go put a smile on your face. Yes, yes, yes," but those don't actually address the underlying issue, which is that you feel powerless or that you feel disrespected. So being in your power and having the skillset to do that is really the ultimate form of self-care. So let me talk together about some things that we all can do, yes?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. I love that you're doing this, by the way, because it's not the things we think of. Yes, I want you to talk about how ... We can work smarter and not harder is a big theme for me for advocates to avoid burnout, meaning working together, not alone, and also taking that responsibility for what we can affect I think is the biggest antidote to burnout, but we don't because we care so much, because we're so passionate, because we're so personally involved. So we can be personally involved, but we can be strategic and smart about managing our resources and being empowered coming from within. To me, it always feels like an endless source of energy when it's aligned appropriately. So yes, want to hear more.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: I think that's right. I think that we have a renewable source of energy within us when we connect to that source, and we want to be able to do that. So first, let's just talk about things that we can do in our mind, body, and then we can talk about strategies to be effective so that you actually see the impact of your work and it creates a sense of momentum as opposed to a sense of feeling stuck.

So when you get pulled out of your power, we even say that we know this by the language that we use. You know what I mean? It's like we get a sinking feeling. We feel gut punched if we feel disrespected and all of that. So you really want to start at the level of moving your emotions through your system. I mean this really literally because each one of you, you are carrying not only your own emotional responses, but you are carrying the emotions and the hardships of so many people, right? You are carrying it for so many people you're holding on. So it's really, really important that you move this through.

I'm going to recommend, really, a daily practice of moving it through your system. What we know about burnout is that when you have these difficult emotions is that you have to complete the stress cycle so that you have to feel them, feeling is healing, and move them through your system until you get to a point where you, quote, unquote, "feel better". I mean, the classic example of this is when you have a good cry, actually, you feel better. You know what I mean?


DR. SHARON MELNICK: So whatever it is for you and, really, whatever you do has to match the intensity of what it is that you feel. So if you're having just a mildly unpleasant emotional response, you could go for a walk around the block in the sun and it could feel a little grounding and a little bit better, but when you're carrying intense emotion or a lot of emotion, then you really have to do something that is more vigorous and is going to match the intensity of that. So I am a huge advocate of vigorous exercise or something that's really going to move it through.

I totally suggest that you take dance breaks. Turn off that camera. Turn on rage song and dance like no one's watching for three minutes in between and really get it out. Now, I maintain Spotify playlists for anger rage songs, for tender grief hurt songs, and a whole range. So you can find these at


DR. SHARON MELNICK: So definitely, move it through. What's really important is it could be anything. It could go smash pillows, go into your car and roll up the windows and put on your favorite fight song and let it rip. Just scream it out. Some people have wished there was a closet at work that they could do, but now you could do it in your car or at home, and chop wood, whatever it takes for you. You know what I mean? You got to get it out because, otherwise, other people's limitations are accumulating within you. So you got to stay good in you, and then once you clear it out, then you want to fill it back up with good, with pleasurable, with joyous. This is just basic emotional hygiene for you. So that's really important.

Another thing that you could do is it's really important to slow down your breathing because when we continually get or repeatedly get reactivated with these emotional responses, then you're always in an emotional state. Your emotions never have a chance to move through you. When you're emotionally on or coming from that place of feeling resentful or hurt or fearful, then it's the emotional center of your brain are running the show, and when they're running the show, they're literally disconnected from your rational thinking centers. You got to know this, actually. So it's like they're calling a phone number that's disconnected.

So the way that you hook them back up and you can get back to that place of discernment and perspective and seeing that this is in you, you are a warrior in the overall arc toward freedom and toward justice, and doing it not only for you, but for everyone who you love and who comes after you. That sense of perspective only comes when you reconnect with your parasympathetic nervous system, your rest and digest, your safe and social. You know what I mean? Your thinking centers.

So even just starting by, no, in the In Your Power book, there's a whole chapter with very, very specific exercises on this, but even just very basic, starting by slowing down your breath when you breathe six times a minute, so that's a count of five on the inhale, a count of five on your exhale. It just starts bringing your system back into balance. I want to give you one more breathing technique. Now, I don't know if any of you are ever going to have a chance to use it, but just in case. If you are ever in a situation where you're tempted to react and feel angry and feel upset, you're going to need this and it's cooling breath. I know, I know you're going to have a lot of opportunities to use this.

So cooling breath, when you feel yourself getting heated, we even use terms like, "My blood is boiling." We're so angry because of just the lack of awareness and responsiveness towards things that seem so basic and humane about inclusion and belonging and rights and justice and equity. So cooling breath, here's what you're going to do. Picture yourself in a situation where you might get angry. So we're going to pre-rehearse this. Ready?

So cooling breath is a reverse breath. You're going to open your mouth ever so slightly. You're going to breathe in as if you're sipping through a straw. Breathe out through your nose, long, slow, deep breath, normal, and keep doing it while I'm talking to you. So breathe in again through your mouth as if you're creating a wind tunnel over the top of your tongue, out through your nose.

Now, cooling breath is your first resort in these situations where you just can feel like you're starting to swell up. It takes you out of that emotional hijack. It puts you out in the part of your brain where you can think about what's the outcome that you want in this situation and ask yourself the question, "Who do I need to show up as in order to start moving us in that direction?" So it'll take you off your heels, help you to be intentional and to start being the steward of the situation, the one who starts to move everyone toward the way that we need to be thinking about it, and has that presence that makes everyone want to be a part of the vision that you are talking about.

Just a little secret extra ninja weapon bonus to cooling breath is that not only does it calm you down, but it calms down the other people around you. So if things are tense, especially if you're doing a negotiation, definitely use cooling breath. You can use this in your family gatherings. Teach it to your children. Jenny, no kidding, I've stopped fights on the New York City subways from across the car just by doing cooling breath. So you can just start to see that there's so much that you could do to stay good in you in order to be able to show up as the person who then acts in a way that is going to make the situation better for everyone around you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wonderful. Thank you for taking us through that. I feel very even calmer that you always have a calming effect on me. So thank you for that. Wow, you said so much. Some things that stand out to me, being a steward of a situation. That's so beautiful. I think of the common storm, the centering for something that's grounded, something that's kind, stewarding, "What does this situation need from me?" Also, it reminds me of the different ways that we can show up in different situations that ultimately I think what makes us most effective change agents is we don't just have one tool or one implement, but we recognize the ingredients that we possess and that we have not just agency, but self-knowledge to know which is needed in what case.

I feel that I shift gears myself if something needs me to convince people or something needs me to be the calming, centering influence or something needs me to be the objective voice, right? Some of these switches of gears, some of them are more difficult than others because some of these, I think, come most innately to us and others do not. I noticed in my body, Sharon, that the ones that are more difficult are just, they're not perhaps my strengths, right? They may not be the gifts that I hold. Yet, every situation calls on us to, I think, supply something different.

So the more versatile we are, the more attuned we are to what's needed to steward a situation, right? Also, those are all sources of power because I think sitting in a situation and understanding, "What is needed from me? Where can I be a force for good in this situation? What are the dynamics that are swirling around me? What are my strengths, and really what is needed?" That to me is an efficient use of our resources.

What I hear you saying is efficiency, right? It is plugging in in a way where I know I can be helpful. That doesn't compromise, of course, who I am and my values and what I believe in, but actually, it is a way of advocating for ourselves at the same time as it is meeting the situation where it's at. So it's this marriage, I think, of our power sources with what's needed, right?

Really interesting because I don't think that's giving up or, I don't know, betraying ourselves. I think this is a really interesting way to think about change and being an agent of change in any given situation. So to me that feels empowering, but that's taken a long time, I think, to figure out the answers to some of those questions and then to reach within myself and say, "What are all the sources of my own power that I have more infinite choice than I think I do?" Also, we have so many different ways to steer or nudge things in the direction that we want them to go, but that's a really interesting use of power. That's not the blunt force of power as it's traditionally been defined. It's power from behind. It's power alongside, right? It's a lot of different ways that don't look like the way power has been defined in that world.

I think, ultimately, that is precisely why you wrote this book because we have to access different and redefine what this is, where we access it from, how we show up, how we empower ourselves and others, how we influence a situation to move in a certain direction. Whether that is seen or unseen, we still have an enormous amount of power to influence the direction of something. It's a bit hidden, but make no mistake. It's strong. So anyway, I just said a lot. I was riffing on what you inspired in me, but what would you say about all that?

DR. SHARON MELNICK: I love it. Boom, you just totally get it, the whole idea. So there's two things that I want to follow up on what you said. The first thing is the more power that we can hold inside of us and use, that determines the impact that we can make. So there's three ways that I identify in the book that we're even biologically hardwired to not be in our power, to not hold that power. The first is that we leak our power, and we leak our power when we focus on the aspects of the situation that we can't control, when we're not being impeccable for our 50%.

We give away our power as we started to talk about. So we're not keeping our power inside of us, and we overlook the power that we already have. So you were just speaking to that, and I love what you said that, actually, our power is infinite and that's the unspoken, almost spiritual idea in a way behind the book. The book is based on a framework of the 12 power portals, 12 power portals. So it's like in any situation, just like you were saying, where you feel stuck or even just you're trying to figure out what's the best way to be a change agent in this situation is that it's like 360 degrees around you you can picture. There are these 12 power portals and each one that you step through or just try to think about what was in the chapter, you know what I mean, is a whole new way of looking at the situation, a whole new mindset, a whole new set of scripts, a way of approaching the situation.

That's the whole idea is I want you to feel a sense of abundance, actually, "Well, I could do this and I could do this and I could also do this," and that will be to help you transcend the ways that many of you might feel now or just feel stuck, where you feel like, "Oh, I can't." You know what I mean? There's, "I've said something," you know what I mean? "There's been no action and I don't feel like I have power in this situation."

JENNIFER BROWN: That's right. I love what you just said, that infinite. You give us 12 ways in, right? what I want to encourage folks to, and I hope you all pick up a copy of this book, obviously, but like I said, any of the 12 you can go through and I think it's a wonderful inventory, which you ask us to do, which is to say, "Where are you being knocked out of your power right now and where is there unused, untapped sources of power that you could be utilizing in this moment?" What a wonderful exercise and a muscle to develop to do this inventory and to say, "So if I'm feeling disempowered, what is the source of that, and then what could I be utilizing here strategically to regain a sense of being centered, being empowered?"

I just want to name some of these even just from your table of contents for the listeners to think about. You have things like, and I love they're all P words. So I love the alliteration, Sharon. I applaud, I love alliteration. It is powerful, but you have words precision, from instinctive to intentional. So to me, that speaks to the primitive brain, that primal response that takes over, like you were speaking about earlier, hijacks us. So moving from while instincts are good, they are perhaps not evolved, right? They're not filtered through our intention, that part of our brain, that executive functioning. You have perspective, from casualty to creator. I love that. Physiology, from hijack to natural high. Love.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: I've been through some of those. Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my gosh! Purpose, from your small game to your big game, I mean, let's just pause on that for a second, small game to big game.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Well, that was a good example of the Tipper Gore example. It's like I was playing my small game, concerned about what I thought about me rather than my big game, which was how I could impact all these people. So the first six portals of the book are about how to stay in your power. You're just reading from those. Then the next six portals are about how to use your power for the good of all. So I'd love to start giving some examples, actually.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, please

DR. SHARON MELNICK: I always actually have. So I think there's two that immediately come to mind. One is a lot of people, the last chapter of the book is about the power of your position, and a lot of times, people only think about like, "Well, there's my job description and then there's what I can do in that." I really want to encourage all of you to think broadly about what is the power of your position, and to know that you have so much power. You can imbue the situation, and even within your position, there's so much power that you might be overlooking and you want to start to own it.

So one example of this is I was coaching a woman who was the leader, the head engineer for an engineering firm. For two years during COVID, she had been going to the owners of the firm and saying, "We really need to make the culture better here. People are leaving." Plus, the highest revenue producers were women, and she really thought that they should be making more money. She had actually put together a women's employee resource group with the women there.

So she had gone to the owners. Okay. So in this situation, it was two older White men, but she had gone to them and she had gotten the equivalent of a pat on the head, we've all been there, a postponement, a non-response. So when we first started talking together, she felt like she had no power and this can be typical in a situation.

So we worked together, and three and a half months later, the owners of the firm agreed to give up 30% of their ownership, which they redistributed to the highest revenue producers, most of whom were women, and they were so taken by her and her influence and the culture that she was able to inspire that they made her CEO. She was a mom with young kids. So she chose to bring in the CMO and to make it a co-CEOship, two moms with young children.

So just an example to say that she started off feeling like she had no power, but actually, she had so much power, just like all of you that you might already have that she was overlooking. So she had all of this relational power. She had built up a lot of goodwill amongst the other partners. We did a whole strategic influencing campaign so that we were very intentional. We made a stakeholder campaign and really customized the message to each of the people.

She became close with board members who bought into the idea. Of course, the owners as well, what they really wanted, of course, was to have a successful exit. So she was able to tie the reputation of the firm, retention, recruitment to the work that she wanted to do. So she had really and she brought in data that helped them to know the cap tables and where they needed to be going forward. So she had really set the whole situation up. People were really starting to turn and advocate for her and ally. The whole decision really was gaining momentum, and then she did the final power move.

So the final power move was she went to the owners and she said, "Look, what's really important to me ..." So this is an example of where she shared her powerful truth and she said, "Look, what's really important to me is that I'm a part of the ownership." You know what I mean?" "That's really what I was looking for in a career situation." So she said, "So that is what I want." Essentially, it was like, "I'm going to do this here or elsewhere," snaps. You know what I mean?


DR. SHARON MELNICK: That was it. That took the whole momentum and just took it over the edge. So that was a woman who really owned her value, and she used her leverage. She used the leverage of all that relational power, all the persuasion power, all the stewardship to get everyone to that point. You have more power than you think.

JENNIFER BROWN: That's for sure, and I think we have the wind at our backs right now. Often, I speak about, to empower the audiences I speak to, to say if you do it in your organization and your organization isn't receptive to your efforts, to your strategy, to your understanding of what will be important in the future, which is what I also hear in your story, that she, whether they wanted to agree or not, whatever, they probably had to admit that what she was arguing for was the model that would be successful in the future to retain talent, to empower diversity of leaders so that the organization could pivot and be responsive and be resonant with today's and tomorrow's customers and clients and landscape.

She was putting this plan forward that had thought through how she would utilize working through others, not just herself, which is another huge piece of strategically lining up your supporters and understanding what's important to those supporters, so potential supporters. So that's the WIIFM, of course, the what's in it for me, but what a beautiful example, but so many of us, I think, give up before we even start in a scenario like that, "Oh, this is never going to happen," or, "Oh-"

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Yeah, but she did the same thing. So when I first met her, actually, she was second guessing herself. She's spinning whether she could really bring her value there, whether she needed to leave. She was taking it personally that she was getting a no. So we've all been there, and that's why I tell that story just to say that even ... So the very first thing that she had to do was get back in her power because, again, I think that this is so important because when we're still out of our power, that means that the status quo is still, on some level, we've bought into it or we're still conditioned by it. It's probably better way of saying because it doesn't feel like an active buy in, we don't buy in to it, but our nervous system is still conditioned by it.

On some level, she was buying in to that this couldn't happen or that she should be second guessing herself like that, "This couldn't happen." Anytime that we feel bad about ourselves or question ourselves, so that's the whole point really is that we have to get into our power so that the way that we approach the situation, you can tell just by listening to the story that her presence compelled a different way of interacting with her. So those owners couldn't anymore put her off, you know what I mean, or give her a no or some vague response or anything like that.

So it would be great to talk here about sharing your powerful truth. You asked me before, "Of all the 12 portals, which is your favorite?" All of them, but, of course, sharing your powerful truth, and I really go into a lot of detail about how to do that. I think it's so important because when you share your powerful truth, she did that, that was the final power move after she had set it up really far along the way, but when you share your powerful truth, it really shows a level of authenticity and of humanity, and it compels people to interact with you on a new level of engagement.

I know that this is fraught for people who are in diversity, equity, inclusion roles, especially where there's ingrained collective unconscious biases like stereotypes like an angry Black woman or a woman who's being emotional or a Latina who's being emotional. I mean, we can scrutinize ourselves and have a lot of mental swirl about whether we should speak up and how it should come across because we don't want to feed into these stereotypes. So I totally understand that.

I guess what I'm saying is that to the extent that I'm trying to invite us into a new way, you know what I mean, is that by buying into those, we're perpetuating that and let's transcend that, you know what I mean, and be in your power and share your powerful truth, and instead of us reacting to the limitations of others, raise yourself and others to be limitless and bring other people along into your vision because your vision of the world is how our world needs to be. You want to be proud of that and you want to own that and you want to walk through the world with that and you're here to create a ripple effect with that.

So there's many examples in that chapter of people sharing their powerful truth from Nabeela Ixtabalan, who's now the COO of Walmart and in Canada sharing about her mental health struggles. When she shared about it, honestly, you know what I mean, it just became the damn broke. You know what I mean? Then everyone was saying, "I face that too. I experienced that too." Walmart has this incredible story of really incorporating sensitivity and support about mental health issues, which has led to bottom line results increases that they have metrics and data on.

There's examples of ... I'm actually encouraging of people to use the strategic display of emotion, the strategic display of emotion. So I think if there's something that is going on that really demands of us to bring urgent attention to where really is an injustice, I think for you to be intentional in maybe just raising your voice just one notch, anything that's just a little outside the very monotone, you know what I mean, very constrained, very narrow band of how we talk in business is that's just how we've been socialized because who set it up.

When you have even just a notch above, it really compels attention, and when you can do that artfully, one example is Greta Thunberg, you know what I mean? At the UN summit, it was riveting her speech, you know what I mean, like, "We're not going to take this speech," but I mean, look at the impact, I mean, the ripple effect that she has created from really being in her truth.

Then what you want to do because we know there's all kind of bias around it, that's okay, again, you're not going to buy into the bias, you're going to help everyone overcome it. We know from the research that when a woman ... The research was done on women. That's why I'm giving this example. When women are agentic and when they are assertive and decisive in their leadership, we know the bias that they can be called bossy or aggressive, all these kinds of things, but for women who are highly self-monitoring, they are the ones who actually can be the most effective.

So if you're just self-monitoring in that situation, I think it will really carry the day to say, "I am aware of the level of passion that I'm bringing to this situation and let me tell you why I think it's so important that we make this a priority or that we bring resources to it," or whatever the thing is.

JENNIFER BROWN: I like that. I'm doing this intentionally. It's like-

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Yes, absolutely.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right? I mean, yeah.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Then you have people on the edge of their seats going, "Wow, okay. She's raising my level of engagement around this and she's telling me why. She's helping." If you can connect the dots and if you can help people to understand because they may not see it the way you do, you're steeped in this every day, and you are aware of all the research and they're trying to get a job done and be a good leader.

So if you can connect the dots for them and really bring them along in your narrative, it can be very powerful. So you can use a strategic display of emotion and you can also ... We were talking about being a steward of the situation. I think that any way that you can use your own experiences, if you've experienced some of the things that you're trying to fight against in your company, you can even use your experience and you could say, whatever decision maker you're talking to, you say, "I'm coming to you with two hats on." You know what I mean? "One is from my own personal experience and then the other is on behalf of our employees."

You can reframe your personal hurt as a collective lack of equity and it can be very powerful again to create that reverberation with your powerful truth. So I think we all think that it's past time, you know what I mean, for us to be having the same old conversations. I think that when you're in your power, you shift the power dynamic. When you're in your power, every person in their power is a change agent. When you're in your power, you raise everyone around you.

JENNIFER BROWN: That's right. That's beautiful. Your part one is called Be The Thermostat, Not The Thermometer. What you were just describing is setting the temperature, is being intentional. Strategic display of emotion to me is we want to be real, authentic, raw, and vulnerable, but we also want to land the point. The two hats are, "I'm a person. This is my experience, but this is the bigger picture of what is happening because I'm not alone and I speak for or alongside or in solidarity with, and being that messenger." We all know that feeling of when a speaker gets very personal and all of a sudden everybody tunes in a different way. It's like the speaker changes mode and we all pay attention in a different way because we all respond to what you're talking about. Those strategic displays of emotion, gosh, we really crave that, and we can't-

DR. SHARON MELNICK: The human body, Jenny, human body resonates with truth.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, we feel it. We feel it, but that choice can be very vulnerable, of course, which we talk a lot about on The Will to Change, "How do I do that without causing me to be underestimated, impairing my credibility, my authority, my power?" I think we need to question then, "Does that feel disempowering or am I actually in my power? Am I more powerful than ever in terms of centering my message about my truth and the truth that I know I'm the tip of the iceberg, the truth that is much bigger than I am, that I am here to share, that I'm here to represent?"

My friend Aaron talks about story truth and universal truth. The story might be what happened, but the truth is what we harvest from it that we want to share, but then the purpose of sharing it is for a universal connection to happen, a lesson to be imparted, something that can shift something in others, not just in us.

The second set of six portals, you say, is we use these for the good of all, right? To me, this is the translation from our internal game to the external impact and what we want to effect in the world with an E, effect.

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Yeah, I think that's right, and I think, again, in the book I go pretty in depth with some guidelines and some recommended approaches for how to think through and had a script sharing your powerful truth. So these are in the In Your Power book, the powerful truth portal. The most important thing is that you own the narrative, that you're intentional because you can determine a lot of how other people will, I mean, you can't control other people, but you can determine when it leaves you and projects out into the world, how it's going to be received by others by the way that you are intentional and you own the narrative.

I also appreciate what you were just saying about that this, I mean, sharing your powerful truth is a very, very powerful feather in our quiver, and it's not the only one. It's to be used in concert with things that I talk about in the other power portals like how to protect yourself and how to set boundaries. Also, I think what's relevant here is how to engage people in solving joint problems, especially when they don't think that the problem is theirs, right? So you're putting out all of this effort bleeding trying to get other people to see it as a problem and to be a part of the solution with you. I think that portal is partnership, had a shift from my problem to our solution.

I think that this is something that will be very relevant for all of you as well. I think that this is a very important skill just generally speaking for your employees because now I'm out there and I'm giving trainings and speaking and empowering employees to own their career and to be able to solve some of these issues because most people now, they don't feel heard, they don't feel seen, they feel like they can't make the impact that they're here for. So I think it's a top down and a bottom up approach.

Each of you who are listening are the ones who are the leaders, who are trying to change at the organizational level, we absolutely need you. At the same time, when you equip your employees or your leaders with the ability to be in their power and use their power, they can be wind in your sales. You know what I mean? They can be amplifying the work that you're doing on the ground, on their teams with their leadership. Then they can bring issues to their leadership, which will then ignite their leadership to bring forth and raise their voices as well.

There are many, many examples in the book, I mean, of people who experienced microaggressions or who were overwhelmed in situations. I mean, here's just one example is I run women's leadership development programming to advance and retain women with a focus on women of color in companies. There was a woman in one of my programs who she was a Black woman who was very talented and was being micromanaged by her manager who was a White woman. She just felt, Imani is her name, she just felt like she couldn't get exposure. She was told what many women are told. We know this from the McKenzie Lennon report, "You're doing a great job. Keep going," but she wanted more and she was capable of more. So she was just spinning, ready to leave, not feeling seen.

So we were able to script an approach to talk with her manager and putting it in terms of what was in it for the manager and helping her to be seen. She was able to have this conversation where she asked for greater responsibility in a very graceful, respectful way, not using these words, but in a way that was very well-received, intimate to her manager that she was being micromanaged and get her out of the box. Immediately, her manager responded, and I started giving her all of this work and she was put on this very high visibility global committee, and the manager started paying more attention to what her contributions on the team meetings.

Then she said something that her manager picked up on, and actually, she worked in a clinical investigation team. It actually saved them from a fraudulent investigation in the company. So she really started to get noticed and she was on nobody's promotion list, not even the long list, but the manager promoted her in three or four months. So it really turned the whole thing around. So this is just an example of someone whose talent would've been squandered. It was very awkward for her across gender, across racial difference to bring up this conversation, but because she was empowered with the way to do it effectively, it changed the course of her career. So in that way, it was bottom up as well as what all the DE&I practitioners in that company were trying to do a lot to change the culture as well.

What was also very relevant is that they had a really good relationship, but then about a year later or so, her manager said something that was microaggressive toward Imani, and because they had built up this relationship and this transparency, Imani felt in her power to be able to say things. She was able to reflect that back to her. I was able to educate her manager and help her manager understand the distinction between her intent and the impact on Imani and asked her to do it differently going forward.

So in this way, just equipping people at all levels of the organization, whether it's your leadership, of course, to carry out your vision, as well as equipping employees with the ability to be heard, to be seen, to make the impact that they're here for so they're not spinning and wondering whether to leave.

JENNIFER BROWN: That's right. What a great story. It's really a two-way street. I mean, in a perfect world, which we are all striving for, we've built up the conversational techniques and transparency and trust and flexibility in our working relationships where we can feel heard and that we can have that vulnerable conversation and have it be productive, but that is doable. That is absolutely within our reach. We have to believe that it is. I think most of us stop before we start, but in reading your book, I think the roadmap that any of us can really develop to make a plan, to step into the most empowered version of ourselves, it's all abundant in this book.

There's just so many pieces that we can attend to and give a little TLC to and prioritize and language that we can take from your pages. You've really written such a valuable, important book, Sharon, and I love it. I always like to ask authors, where can we support you, find you, connect into the conversations that you're having, and where would you direct us to get more of this good stuff?

DR. SHARON MELNICK: Thank you so much. All of your sentiments just means so much to me coming from you, such a visionary and someone who's made such an impact on our world. So thank you. Thank you deeply for that. So you can pick up your copy of In Your Power, I mean, anywhere, but head on over to just because when you share your information there, there's the book resources that will be available to you there and some extra quick start tools that I'll get you started with. You can also reach me there in terms of bringing me in to talk to the leaders in your organization about being in their power and growing power in others or to have me come speak to people in your ERGs. That's something that I do all the time or on teams. There's also bulk buys of the book because the more people are empowered in your organization, the more, like I said, it's going to give wind into the sails of the vision that you are trying to accomplish.

So I really, really want to thank your listeners for the just crucial work that you are doing. Because of what you're doing in the world, you're trying to create a world that I want to live in, and I'm really deeply grateful to you, and I hope that you will use the approaches in the book to ... Being in your power is the ultimate form of self-care and will use them so that you can use your power for the good of all. Always remember that when you're in your power, you raise everyone around you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Thank you so much, Sharon.


Hi. This is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

DOUG FORESTA: You've been listening to The Will to Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you've enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit Thank you for listening, and we'll be back next time with a new episode.