Too much or too little of anything can do us in. Take water, for instance. Too much or too little can lead to our demise. And so it is with power in the workplace. Power imbalance—too much or not enough—can be bad for our mental health, engagement and productivity—and ultimately harmful to the company’s bottom line.

Some people have too much power, while most need more. According to leadership expert Tania Luna, co-CEO of LifeLabs Learning, poor power distribution contributes to a host of problems from disengagement to distrust. The current power imbalance between employers and employees is evident in a whopping 90% of companies forcing or planning to force return-to-office policies by the end of 2024. But it’s not only workers with a lack of power who suffer. Leaders, too, feel stressed and overwhelmed when they don’t have the support of their teams. Luna was part of a team that helped thousands of companies become richly collaborative places to work, while at the same time growing LifeLabs Learning to more than $30 million in revenue with 96% employee engagement and less than two percent attrition. Her new book, Lead Together: Stop Squirreling Away Power and Build a Better Team, shares the principles behind these success stories. 

Why Leaders Should Be Willing To Share Their Power

Luna insists that there are limitations and dangers to the typical “power-over” approach, in which one person or group has power over others. “When someone feels powerless, they avoid taking risks, and they tend to think more conventionally. But when they feel powerful, they take action. They feel more confident and optimistic. They share their opinions even if others disagree. And they think more creatively,” the author explains. She lays out a new approach to distributing power that builds more resilient teams and highly productive, inclusive and psychologically safe workplaces that people love. Luna brings her approach to life through the fictional tale of Sam Squirrel, branch manager of a company facing an impending forest recession. There’s a difference between “power-over” and “power-with” strategies, she explains. “It’s not only those who have too little power that suffer. It’s also those who hold too much—those lonely leaders who long for a team to lift the weight of the world off their shoulders,” she points out. 

Tania Luna Lead Together
Tania Luna, author of LEAD TOGETHER, is a psychology researcher, writer and educator who has built and grown multiple companies, including LifeLabs. She lives with rescued pigs, goats, roosters, dogs, cats, and the love of her life.Photo compliments of Brian Luna

Stress.  Distrust.  Disengagement.  According to Luna, one rarely-discussed factor is responsible for these problems that plague our workplaces:  poor power distribution. Luna advocates a “power with” strategy in which leaders grow power in others, so that collectively they can get more done. Luna saw first-hand that leaders and managers who hold too much power are at risk of burnout and poor decision-making. “When too much responsibility rests on the shoulders of a small number of people, the strain is personally overwhelming and leaves companies and teams vulnerable when the people everyone depends on leave,” she notes. “Research and my own experience show that holding too much power can also mute our empathy and cause us to take thoughtless risks.” On the flip side, she observes that employees who hold too little power are also struggling. “Their sense of powerlessness results in stress, withdrawal and even health problems. And from an organizational perspective, poor power distribution results in low creativity and limited agility since everyone must wait around for orders from the top rather than making thoughtful progress independently.”

A Shift From ‘Power Over’ To ‘Power With’

Leaders today want to stop feeling overwhelmed and alone. They want to develop engaged, diverse, resilient and joyful teams that achieve great things together. They are searching for a better way to lead. So what’s the solution to these common workplace ills? Luna proposes a shift from a ‘power-over’ to a ‘power-with’ leadership paradigm, a concept inspired by the 19th century scholar Mary Parker Follett. Power-over refers to using our power as a means of control. Power-with means using our power to grow the power in others, thus increasing our collective capacity to get things done. Luna describes four principles of the “power-with” way: Follow a purpose, not a person; Rely on context, not control; Be a cultivator, not a collector; Build a community, not a crowd. The author explains that the power-with way has two components:  growing personal power and distributing power well, so that it’s not too concentrated in any one individual or group. She insists that achieving this hinges on four principles:

  1. Follow a Purpose Not a Person. Having a clear purpose empowers everyone to progress toward the same goal, reduces bottlenecks and places less strain on leaders.  “Feeling inspired by the purpose of your work helps you get more done,” Luna says. “Moreover, when we’re clear and aligned on goals, it lets us move forward without waiting for someone to tell us what to do.”
  2. Rely on Context, Not Control. She states that leaders must clarify the why rather than dictating the how, adding, “When people have context, they have the information they need to take action and make good decisions. On the other hand, feeling controlled reduces creativity and agility, and lack of context limits decision-making ability.”
  3. Be a Cultivator, Not a Collector. “Most companies try to collect employees from a small, finite crop of talent rather than cultivate an infinite field. They think skills have to be found instead of made,” writes Luna. “In a power-with approach, organizations seek out people with the desire to learn and grow and offer resources to develop skills.” 
  4. Build a Community, Not a Crowd. “Any time we work together, some kind of community emerges. The problem is, most of us don’t think about it that way, so we don’t build our communities deliberately. In the end, we’re left feeling like a crowd,” the author explains. “By inviting people to co-create your team you get ‘build-in’ instead of ‘buy-in.’ Not only does this open the door to better ideas, but it creates an ‘owner mindset’ that results in a sense of commitment, belonging and engagement from all employees.”  

The leadership expert brings the “power with” philosophy to life through what she calls grow it and sow it. Grow it means investing in increasing the individual power of your team, including authority, knowledge, skills and influence. Sow it distributes power widely across teams and organizations so it is never too concentrated in one person or small group of people.

The grassroots movement of Stand Up And Speak Out already is gaining momentum among younger workers. They are refusing to tolerate the inability to share their concerns, suggestions or complaints without fear of retaliation from employers. Only through sharing power well can these organizations become resilient, adaptive, diverse and joyful workplaces, capable of achieving amazing things together even in the face of constant change and uncertainty,” Luna concludes.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: