Seven sources of power. This is my adaptation of the classic from French and Raven, which they did a piece called The Five Bases of Social Power. You know, what do you have going for you? If leadership is, in fact, influencing people, guiding the flow of people, what kind of power is available to get people to go somewhere? And I’ve come up with seven, and here are the ones that I think are important. The first thing you need to understand, though, is that you don’t have power. You don’t just walk around having power. People give it to you. They allow you to influence them or not. So the whole point of this is that power is not something that resides in a person, but the people around them give them the right to influence them based on what I think are these seven kinds of conditions. The first one is position power. I was in the military. I had one and a half of these. If somebody had 2 or 3 of these, I said, “Sir.” If somebody had less than these, I had power with them. Position power in an organization is based on rank. You know who’s up and who’s down. It’s very clear. You’ve got rank. You’ve got power. The second is coercive power. This would be the power to do harm to someone or physical power. Sometimes very large people have this sort of powerful presence, even if they don’t intend to do anything about it. There’s this implied danger or threat. So people with weapons have power. People in an organization that are in a position to hurt you, for instance, they have that kind of power.
But the opposite of that is reward power. These are the people in organizations that have the power to make things go nicely for you, you know, do good things for you. These two are really related. Coercive and reward power are the opposite sides of the same coin. The third one is connection power. This is who you know. People might give you influence because of your connection with somebody else. For instance, the secretary to the CEO has a lot of connection power. Everybody in the organization knows that he or she is connected to somebody that really has a lot of rank. And so they often have more power than other people, including many other managers in the organization because of this, in terms of influence, information power is what do you know, people might give you influence because they sense in you that you know something that might be useful to them. So this is knowing about something. The sixth one is expertise or expert power, which is knowing how to do something. For instance, if I needed to have open heart surgery, I might not want to go to somebody that had a lot of information power, who wrote a lot of articles, maybe about open heart surgery. I want to go to a surgeon that was an expert in how to do open heart surgery. So sometimes people will allow you to influence them because they see your ability to do something. As an external consultant, coming in from outside in an organization, quite often when people see that I’m able to facilitate conversations or resolve conflicts or something like that, they then give me influence, allow me to have power because of what they can see that I can do.
And then finally, there’s personal power. This is the power of who you are as a human being. I was in a conversation not long ago with some people who were saying they were very low in the organization. They were saying, “We don’t have any power.” They felt like victims. And I said, you always have power because what you have going for you at the top are these, and these give you compliance. If you have rank, what you get when you use these first three is compliance. But if you want more than that, if you need commitment to something, then you want to use these last four: connection, information, expertise, and personal power. The point here is that if you think you have no power, you always have at least access to these bottom four. If you don’t have rank and you don’t have the power to help people or hurt people, you certainly can have power based on some connection you have, information that you have, expertise that you have, and you always, always have access to the power that resides in you as a human being, your ability to influence people out of the essence of who you are. Next time you’re in a project, or you’re in a meeting, or you’re trying to make something happen, ask yourself what sources of power do we have available to us? Or might we get access to that can give us more influence in this particular project or process.
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