Before you say, Who me? I don’t have any leadership power, hear me out.
Dictionary.com defines power as “a person or thing that possesses or exercises authority or influence”. In essence, when we use leadership power, we’re utilizing our authority to get something. That means everyone has power.
And having power isn’t a bad thing. The issue becomes what kind of leadership power a person has and how someone uses that power. There’s an old quote by Margaret Thatcher that says, “Power is like being a lady…if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” While I get the point of the quote, it’s important to understand the 7 common types of leadership power so you can use them properly.
- One type of power we’re familiar with is positional or legitimate power. It comes from the position a person holds. This is related to a person’s title and job responsibilities. When you have the title, you have the power. And vice versa.
- Coercive power is associated with people who are in a position to punish others. People fear the consequences of not doing was has been asked of them. We have a tendency to think of this as the proverbial “power trip” but I can see coercive power being helpful in an emergency situation (when there’s no time for building consensus).
- On the flip side, reward power is based upon a person’s ability to bestow rewards. In a work context, those rewards might come in the form of job assignments, schedules, pay or benefits. Keep in mind that all rewards are not distributed by your boss.
- Connection power is based upon who you know. This person knows and has the ear of other powerful people within the organization. Think of this like networking. Everyone should want connection power. It helps them get things done.
- People who are well-liked and respected can have referent power. Likeability can influence people. Tim Sanders, former Yahoo executive, has written a book on the subject called “The Likeability Factor”. Fascinating read about the power of friendliness.
- Expert power comes from a person’s expertise (duh!). This is commonly a person with an acclaimed skill or accomplishment. Don’t make the mistake of thinking expert power is only associated with people who have advanced degrees or fancy job titles. When the copier is broken, the person who knows how to fix it is an expert.
- A person who has access to valuable or important information possesses informational power. And I’ll take this one a step further. People who know how to find information have tremendous power. In today’s technology driven world, having the ability to sift through the internet is an important skill.
As you can see, there are lots of different ways power can manifest itself. And for that reason, it’s important to realize that power exists in everyone. It’s also possible that you have different kinds of power with different groups or situations.
The two biggest mistakes I see with people using power revolve around 1) trying to use power they don’t have and 2) using the wrong kind of power to achieve results.
If you want to learn more about your leadership power, take a moment and think about how you try to influence action from others. You could use the descriptions above as a pseudo self-assessment. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 in each of the different kinds of power. With 1 being not at all characteristic of you and 5 being quite characteristic.
This can be a powerful exercise (no pun intended). If you’re honest with yourself, I hope you will find the results helpful in understanding and developing your leadership power.
Image captured at the very powerful Library of Congress by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference in Washington, DC25