Expert Series: Power, Privilege, Rank and Culture: What Difference Does Difference Make? – Part 2


Content for Coaches and Consultants
ThoughtAction LLC
Adonai Business Solutions
– choice Magazine

In this second article in our series, we explore the dynamics of power and privilege and their impact on coaching.

Power (or power-over) is the perceived or actual possession of control, authority, strength or influence over self and/or others.  We believe that we have each had experiences of power-over, powerlessness, and the full spectrum in-between, but that systemic bias has created patterns of uneven power distribution where some experience power-over or powerlessness more than others.  Our consistent experience of our ability to effect results affects our perspective on our surroundings, relationships, interactions, and actions – including how we receive and provide coaching. Ignoring this aspect of our own or a client’s relationship to the world is ignoring a significant part of our realities. In addition to recognizing these power experiences and committing to shifting inequitable systems, we believe that as coaches we can support our clients in engaging power-with and power-to approaches as they respond to the challenges and opportunities before them.

Privilege is an earned or unearned benefit enjoyed by a person or group beyond the advantages of most. We propose that we each have areas where we are marginalized and areas where we have privilege. Many react to the notion that they have privilege (with comments such as, “I don’t have privilege. I had to work hard for everything I have.”), incorrectly equating “privilege” with “lazy” or “entitled,”  Others may react to the idea of being marginalized, confusing it with taking on victim status (saying things like, “Nobody can make you a victim without your permission.” as though thinking yourself a victim and being marginalized were the same). Privilege and marginalization are not criticisms or things to be defended against, but rather, part of the human social experience.  As coaches, we have a unique opportunity to help our clients recognize the impact of privilege and marginalization in their lives – including ways they may have internalized them. This provides a deeper, authentic connection and a space for us all to show up fully.


  • Where do you experience power-over, powerlessness, privilege or marginalization? (If you say you don’t, look again. If you have a pulse, you have them.)
  • How might they influence your coaching?
  • Extra credit:  Ask clients to look at these dynamics in their world and their impact on their experience or results.

Check out the previous series >> Expert Series Archive <<

About the Authors:

Halli MacNab, PCC is a life and leadership coach and trains coaches with Accomplishment Coaching.  Current President of the Association of Coach Training Organizations (ACTO), she is passionate about supporting coaches to initiate brave conversations about power, privilege, rank, and culture.

Compass International’s Karen Curnow, MCC is committed to developing powerful, compassionate, and equitable leaders across cultures. Having lived in five countries, Karen serves as a coach, consultant, and faculty member in Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching program.

Karen and Halli helped create the groundbreaking Calling in Power and Culture Summit, bringing together over 30 coach education programs to focus on dynamics of power, privilege, rank, and culture in coaching.

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The Expert Series is brought to you by choice Magazine as part of our ongoing efforts to bring opportunities for learning and growth to the coaching community. Delivered in four parts every two weeks, each series covers useful topics  >> Expert Series Archive << for business development and coaching insights, serving the needs of leaders in all areas and walks of life.