Poor at influencing? Try increasing your power base

Power is the ability to influence others. In the early 60s, French and Raven investigated power in leadership roles and how different types of power influenced leadership success. They uncovered six bases of social power or ‘psychological forces’ that could be used to change a belief, attitude or behaviour:

1. Reward power (ability to give rewards for compliance — e.g. bonus)

2. Coercive power (ability to give punishment for non-compliance — e.g. job loss)

3. Legitimate power (belief the influencer is authorized to command and make decisions — e.g. the PM/President)

4. Expert power (belief that the influencer has greater expertise and knowledge than you — e.g. your GP)

5. Referent power (identification with, attraction to or respect for the influencer — e.g. Mother Teresa)

6. Informational power (belief that the influencer has more information than oneself — e.g. PHD in AI).

Given there a many ways a leader can gain and exercise power, I’ve seen many leaders too quickly draw on formal ‘positional power’ sources: reward, coercive and legitimate and less on informal ‘personal power’ forms: expert, referent and informational. It is no wonder given that organizations are mostly hierarchy and compliance driven. This is the authority of being the ‘boss’ to provide direction as well as issue bonuses, promotions, 5 star performance ratings as well as punishment such as giving a poor appraisal rating, taking away great projects or onsite opportunities, or even firing someone when they fail to meet set sales targets. The danger of this tactic however is that it only ever leads to compliance not commitment or strong organization citizenship behaviours.

While more difficult, the alternative is leveraging alternative sources of ‘personal power’ for stronger followership and employee engagement. In a study of US accountants, Rahim & Afza found Expert and Referent power bases were associated with higher levels of subordinates’ commitment, and Referent power base was linked to higher satisfaction with work. Legitimate and Referent power bases also positively correlated with behavioral compliance, and overall higher commitment and job satisfaction resulted in subordinates less likely to leave their jobs.

How to increase your Personal Power sources to influence others more successfully:

The relationship between power and leadership isn’t clear cut. Many leaders do influence through exercising their power through coercion and legitimacy, but others influence by persuasion and instilling their vision in their followers. Sure having a degree of Referent power (being liked and trusted) and Legitimate power (as the CEO/’the boss’) certainly does help mobilize others in the attainment of collective goals too.

What is clear is that you don’t need to be in a formal leadership position or senior role to have power. Here’s a couple of takeaways to help increase your personal power. Good luck!

· Referent — this power source comes from being truly trusted and respected. This can be increased by showing genuine concern and a high level of respect for others. Excel at making others feel comfortable in your presence and being seen as likeable. Being honest, practicing what you preach, doing what you say you will do is also vital. Beware: lack of authenticity will quickly erode your referent power.

· Expert — this power source comes from others’ assumptions that you possess superior skills, knowledge, and abilities. Become known as a ‘Thought Leader’ (write often, publish original ideas, speak at conferences, contribute to social and professional networks as well as contribute to your professional membership body) This can be increased by increasing your level of expertise and qualifications in your chosen field through formal study and training but this is not enough as expertise must be demonstrated by solving problems important to followers and providing sound advice on a consistent basis.

· Information power — this power source comes from having knowledge that others need and want. This can be increased by being more inquisitive as well as reading with greater depth and breadth, conducting research, networking more broadly, asking questions and getting access to privilege information. Remember that not all information is powerful. If I told you it would rain today, it is unlikely that you would be persuaded. But when combined with another power source, you could be persuaded. For example, information can be influential when it comes from an expert source, a meteorologist or Google confirming rain today. Information power is also the most transient power source as once you share it, you have given away your power.

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