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Where Does Your Power Come From?



“Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” —Margaret Thatcher

Sources of Power

Power is the ability to influence the behavior of others, to overcome resistance, and to get people to do things they may not otherwise do. There are two main bases of power: positional power and personal power. You can access these bases through several sources. You can possess positional power as either legitimate, reward, or coercive. Your personal power can be either expert or referent. Each of these forms of power can achieve differing degrees of effectiveness based on the specific situation you are facing.

Just as you use various leadership styles to motivate others and get things done, you are in a better position to influence others if you have access to different sources of power. So, where does your power come from?

Positional power

Positional power is based on your rank within the structure of your organization and is granted to you by someone who is your superior. This form of power is task oriented and focused on giving orders without asking subordinates for their input or ideas. Much of its effectiveness is dependent on your ability to either reward or punish those who work under you. Use of positional power often results in low work satisfaction, lack of commitment, high job stress, high turnover, and even sabotage.

Legitimate power

Legitimate power is a form of positional power that can also be referred to as formal authority. This source of power relies solely on holding a position of responsibility. With legitimate power, you have the right to command others based on your position within the structural hierarchy of the organization.

Reward power

Reward power is a form of positional power that is based on your ability to control tangible benefits such as parking spaces, flexible work schedules, promotions, or bonuses. Reward power operates on the desires of others. When you have the authority to determine who will receive rewards or eliminate unpleasant penalties, you have reward power.

Coercive power

Coercive power is a form of positional power that is based on your ability to punish, discipline, or withhold rewards when subordinates do not act in accordance with commands or requirements. Coercive power operates on other’s fears. When you have the authority to determine and deliver punishment or withhold desired rewards, you have coercive power.

Personal power

Personal power is based on individual qualities. It is not necessarily given by superiors, but instead, by subordinates themselves. This form of power is relationship oriented. Personal power is held by individuals who behave in ways that motivate and inspire others. They create a supportive organizational environment where they recognize and acknowledge the individual needs of others. They are active listeners who encourage two-way communication and focus their energy on helping others grow. Use of personal power usually results in higher motivation and productivity, lower stress levels, and stronger commitment.

Expert power

Expert power is a form of personal power that stems from the unique expertise, specific knowledge, or skill set of an individual. If you possess expert power, you influence others because you have specific qualities and proficiencies that they value. You are the go-to person for advice. You are an expert as solving problems or performing tasks.

Referent power

Referent power is a form of personal power that stems from an individual’s charisma and reputation. It is derived from personal characteristics that result in admiration from others. If you possess referent power, you have the ability to influence others based on your charisma and reputation. People like you and admire your accomplishments. They believe in your causes and see you as a role-model. People trust you and follow you willingly.

Where Does Your Power Come From?

Leadership is influence and power is the tool that gives you the ability to influence the behavior of others. Both positional and personal power can be effective in specific situations. The task oriented nature of positional power is effective at accomplishing short-term, production oriented goals but can have a negative effect on job satisfaction and motivation in the long run. Being relationship oriented, personal power builds a strong culture and increases productivity.

It is important to evaluate and understand your sources of power. Which one will work best based on your current situation and goals? Which one will serve you best in the long-run? By answering these questions, you will become more effective at influencing others.

So, where does YOUR power come from?

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