Learning Series

Leaders Who Steward Power

August 29, 2022

Introducing Hilary Nyte

Intern, Maxwell Consulting Group (MCG)

Our company is committed to investing in up-and-coming leaders who are integrating transformative ESG approaches in their work and building a better future. We are delighted to introduce Hilary Nyte who is interning with our company this year.  

For the next two months, Hilary will be sharing her work through a blog series and resources. We will also facilitate an upcoming event and dialogue around leadership, power, and power stewardship. 

Hilary sat down with CEO Larissa Maxwell to share about her work so far at MCG.

Tell us a bit about your background and why you were interested in an internship with The Maxwell Consulting Group.

Growing up, my Dad would often remind me that “life is not fair” and both parents would frequently refer to me as “the littlest lawyer” because if something was not fair, I was tenacious about making the situation right. Throughout my career, this tenacity for equity has broadened.  

I have worked on the frontlines in various forms of social work for over 10 years, from supporting children with disabilities, counselling those with histories of trauma, and helping people navigate the immigration, criminal, child protection, and family law systems in Canada, I have made it my focus to find collaborative and innovative ways of helping people overcome injustice and oppression.  

I was interested in an internship with Maxwell Consulting Group because of the ground-breaking and ethical lens that they approach each of their projects with. I find the way they are challenging those who work with them to lead with their values inspiring.

For 8 months (Jan-Aug), you have worked on research, projects, and tools related to power, power stewardship, and power in public policy. Why were you attracted to these topics? 

The prospect of studying power was enticing to me because it tends to be an elusive, taboo subject.  I’ve rarely heard anyone address power head-on, yet it is woven into absolutely every interaction and system we experience in our daily lives.  

Whether we’re ordering coffee, or assisting people to navigate complex (often oppressive) systems, power is nearly always an unspoken but integral force at play. Unpacking what power is, how to steward it well, how to recognize when power is being used poorly, and leadership strategies to prevent power from becoming corrosive was illuminating for me. 


I am interested in the interplay of power and public policy because as I have worked alongside people experiencing and navigating a vast array of oppressive systems, I have consistently run headlong into the ways that policies can either cause further inequities or offer relief to those who have felt their power stripped away.

In your learning so far, how do you define power stewardship?

I have come across three definitions of power that resonate with me:

Power Beyond OurselvesPower that LiberatesImpact and Influence
“Power expresses our purposefulness, wholeness, and agency. Although power is the drive to realize one’s self, the effect of power goes beyond one’s self. Power is how we make a difference in the world; it is the means by which new social realities are created. Without power, nothing new grows.” “To assert one’s own power in a way that promotes mutuality, one must know the type of power one seeks. There are two fundamental types of power. One is the ability to dominate, or control, people and things… An alternative type of power is liberatory power — the ability to create what we want… Liberatory power helps one refrain from asserting power over others, or to do so carefully… Liberatory power invites one to construct a story about oneself as powerful. It trains us to look for where our power is…” 
“Power is our capacity to impact and influence our environment.”
Adam Kahane, Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change Cyndi Suarez, The Power Manual Julie Diamond, Power: A User’s Guide. 

To build upon these descriptions of power, my current working definition of power stewardship is:  

our capacity to influence the world around us in such a way that we cultivate a society which benefits everyone and marginalizes no one.  

To utilize power in this way requires a relentless pursuit of honest self-reflection and external feedback; unity with others; and the compassionate desire to build far beyond the societal structures that currently exist. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What have you learned about your own relationship to power?

In the same way meditation, yoga, or prayer are practices; I have learned that recognizing and utilizing my power is an ongoing practice self-awareness and earnestly seeking feedback.  

The research I’ve done so far has begun to demystify power so that I can be cognizant and reflective of when I’m acting out of my power, when I’m offloading power onto others, when I’m bowing to the power of another, and when I’m in danger of misusing or neglecting to use my power. I have a stronger drive than ever to practice power well.  

What is the most provocative idea you have explored that you want companies who work with The Maxwell Consulting Group to think about?

Julie Diamond puts forward an idea- power corrupts: absolutely, but not inevitably. She compares high power to oxygen-thin atmospheres that occur at the “danger zone” of at or above 26,000 feet above sea level, such as is found while summiting Mount Everest. She contrasts impaired judgement from lack of oxygen to the myriad ways the embrace of high power and high status intoxicates us.

Diamond notes that as we gain more power and status, “…our self-esteem rises while our self-awareness decreases. Our capacity to feel empathy for others decreases just as the influence we have over them increases…” and highlights that “…using power well depends on becoming aware of our behavior, and those often-unconscious feelings that drive it: beliefs, fears, and attitudes…using power well starts with self-awareness.” 

In learning this, and finding similar conclusions repeated by other sources, I believe a key that everyone should keep in mind while practicing power – especially those with high levels of positional power, status, and influence – are the warning signs that their judgement or leadership is impaired by the power they wield.  

It seems the more power you have, the more crucial it is that you seek honest external feedback on a regular basis from several sources. The more power you have, the more you need to purposely practice self-reflection, compassion, and empathy. Research shows that if you don’t, you are in danger of making disastrous missteps.   


You intend to apply for a Master’s Degree in Public Administration in the future. How has this internship contributed towards that goal, and shaped your perspective? 

This internship has ignited a passion for researching the interplay of ethical power and public policy that I didn’t realize could exist. It has offered me a new lens to view the world through and has caused me to reassess my values and practice of power. This internship has given me numerous points that I hope to zero in on throughout the process of building my thesis.  

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts from Hilary, including defining power, personal power, and the difference between dominance and liberatory power.  

Picture of Larissa Maxwell

Larissa Maxwell

Larissa Maxwell is the CEO and Principal Consultant of The Maxwell Consulting Group, and an avid reader, researcher, and creative explorer.

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