Do you desire to be more effective in all of your roles in life, including your leadership roles? I do, and I assume you do, too. All of the foremost experts on leadership define the essence of leadership as being influence. The world’s top selling author on leadership – John Maxwell – cuts to the chase by saying, “Leadership is influence; nothing more and nothing less.” To increase our influence, we need to understand and apply the concept of power. Power is the capacity or potential to influence – to affect others’ beliefs, attitudes, and courses of action. Of course people can use power for selfish or evil purposes, but let's assume we want to use power to serve others and make the world a better place.
To better use power, it’s helpful to know the bases of power upon which we can draw. It’s important to understand and have a multi-dimensional mindset. To maximize our influence, we can intentionally use and develop multiple bases of power, and not rely on only one or two. Based on what a variety of experts have discovered (and validated by my own experiences and discussions with others), it seems there are primarily 10 potential bases of power.
Bases of Power
Experts on power sometimes group the bases of power into two categories: personal power and position power. Let's start by examining some specific bases of personal power, which is defined as the influence capacity a leader derives based upon her personal relationships and characteristics. Examples of personal power bases include:
1) Referent Power. Referent power comes from being trusted, respected, and well-liked. We gain referent power when others trust what we do and respect us for how we handle situations. This is a desirable source of power that can be developed as we intentionally work on building positive relationships and proving ourselves trustworthy. I agree with Maya Angelou’s insight, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
2) Expert Power. Expert power comes from a person’s expertise – her skill, accomplishment, and knowledge. Francis Bacon observed, “Knowledge is power,” and it’s true. Expertise and knowledge can include a spectrum ranging from understanding job specific tasks to soft skills like knowing how to deal with difficult people. Developing our expertise — and sharing with others — is a healthy source of power.
3) Moral Power. Moral power is attributed to a person who has a strong moral compass, who consistently lives out inspiring values, and is quick to apologize and own up to occasional failings. Martin Luther King Jr. gives us perspective when he said, “I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.” Moral power is certainly something we all seek to earn.
4) Charismatic Power. Some people are blessed with magnetic personalities and the extraordinary ability to inspire others. For those with this giftedness, this can be a useful source of power when combined with other healthy sources of power (e.g. moral), and used for positive purposes.
5) Connection Power. Connection power comes when a person has developed strong connections (relationships) with key influencers, experts, and other resources. We can build more connection power when we network and build relationships with a wide range of people; people that can help us and others we are trying to serve. One way to build connection is to selflessly support others and assist them when they are in need of help. We can also practice my 3 Rs of showing respect, recognizing people for who they are and the value they bring, and rewarding in tangible and intangible ways. Connection power is also a healthy source of power.
6) Political Power. Political power arises from a person’s ability to work with people and social systems to gain their allegiance and support. Political power is developed by learning how to get things done within an organization; understanding the “ropes” and how to effectively achieve objectives within the corporate culture. Political power can be abused and used for self-serving purposes, but when used with altruistic motives, it is a source of power that is valuable to us.
Position power is the derived power a person has from holding a particular office or rank in a formal organization system. Bases of position power include:
7) Legitimate Power. Legitimate power comes from the position a person holds. This is related to a person’s title and job responsibilities. By itself, this source of power may result in a certain level of compliance, but not necessarily a strong sense of commitment and cooperation. If legitimate power is used for the benefits of others instead of yourself (i.e. following the servant leadership philosophy) it can be a key component of the multi-dimensional power we seek.
8) Reward Power. Reward power comes from a person’s ability to bestow rewards. Rewards may come in the form of pay and benefits, bonuses, gift cards, job assignments, preferred schedules, time off with pay, and other valued benefits. Rewards can also be of an intangible nature, as modeled by Sam Walton when he explained, “Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They are absolutely free and worth a fortune.” Rewards that are used fairly and sincerely can be a useful source of power to recognize and reinforce desired behaviors and performance.
9) Informational Power. Informational power is when an individual possesses the ability to limit or grant access of others to relevant information. The positive and preferred use of informational power is to share information as broadly as we can and help people feel like “insiders” versus “outsiders.” I like the principle of erring on the side of over-communicating versus under-communicating and feel this leads to increasing our power with others.
10) Coercive Power. Coercive power rests in the ability of a person to force another to comply with an order through the threat of punishment. Coercive power can result in short-term compliance, but in the long-run produces dysfunctional behavior. This type of power is not recommended except perhaps in rare, emergency situations.
Here are a couple of closing thoughts about power. First, true power is something we earn and can’t demand of others. Second, power can be used for good or evil purposes, and has the potential to corrupt us if we are not careful. Plato observed, “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” And Abraham Lincoln counseled, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Let's go out and expand and use our power to serve others, and do what we can to make the world — and our workplaces — a better place!
Wes Friesen (MBA, EMCM, CMDSM, MCOM, MDC, OSPC, CCE, CBF, CBA ICP, CMA, CFM, CM, APP, PHR, CTP) is a proven leader and developer of high-performing teams and has extensive experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. He is also an award-winning university instructor and speaker, and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management, and team building training. His book, Your Team Can Soar!, can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Wes can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 971.806.0812.
This article originally appeared in the January/February, 2020 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.