The Sources of Power

Sources of Power and Influence for Responsible Leaders

So as we dive into the topic of power for responsible leaders I thought I’d offer an definition. Power is the ability to influence people’s thoughts, feelings, behaviours and beliefs in order to achieve your intended outcomes. Your intended outcomes may be good, bad or neutral but whatever they are you will need power to achieve them. 

It is important to notice that power is always manifested in relationships. You don’t ‘hold’ power as such. Rather you have the potential to leverage power in relationship to others and they have potential to leverage power in relationship to you.  So you never have absolute power because the other person can choose to resist or influence you back.

The other point is that when you use your power, there are two possible outcomes for the person you are trying to influence – commitment or compliance.  Obviously, commitment is a more effective outcome than compliance because it does not need to be constantly monitored. The individual will drive their own actions without you hovering over them all the time. 

Thirdly, it is important to notice that real power comes when you are able to influence thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviour.  That’s where true commitment comes from – think of Trump supporters or great business leaders such as Paul Polman of Unilever or Yvon Chouinard the founder of Patagonia and inspirational environmentalist.

So what are the different sources of power? I’ll list here 10 different kinds of power and will build on this in weeks to come. Some are personal and often come from personality or talents and some are more external or systemic.

Four External Sources of Power 

  1. Resources – most obviously money but it may also be the ability to leverage human resources or technological resources. 
  2. Reward and punishment – the ability to reward compliance with, say a promotion, or an introduction to a powerful individual, or punish non-compliance with exclusion from influential meetings or bad performance ratings
  3. Authority – the right to tell people what to do which is invested by the formal system of authority. However, just because someone has formal authority does not always mean that they are respected or able to gain commitment from their people. 
  4. Information – access to information that gives you the ability to influence decisions. For example, you may know that an important meeting is taking place and who will be in that meeting.  This gives you the opportunity to influence the people who are making the decisions.

Six Personal Sources of Power 

  1. Charisma – some people just have it but you can develop more of it, too. 
  2. Expertise – having a valued source of expertise can often give you power in contexts where that expertise is needed and where it is rare. 
  3. Management of meaning – this is the ability to tell great stories and influence how people view a situation.
  4. Networks – a really important source of power in today’s world – it’s all about who you know!
  5. Energy, dynamism, ambition – much overlooked. In order to leverage power you need drive and energy. Managing power can be exhausting. 
  6. Profile/brand – as we all know the power of fame or profile is significant in today’s social media world. 

So that’s it. We cannot have all these sources of power but you can create a leadership alliance to cover most bases. 

About the Author: Karen Blakeley

Karen Blakeley

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