(Originally Published: 07/08/2015, Updated: 29/10/2016)
Power is the outward expression of inward strength and confidence in a situation.
Power comes from many places, what I like to call the 8 Sources of Power:
Power of position comes from a position you hold. Positions of power can be either appointed, elected or created by oneself.
An appointed position generally means that others are contractually or procedurally obliged to carry out your instructions and follow your lead. The easiest example for this would be a CEO or other manager. While these positions tend to be earned through a combination of the other 7 sources, there are many individuals in positions of power who lack the qualities that would normally earn them such a place. This undermines power as many people will only show deference to the position, not the person holding it. True power would be demonstrated by the former manager or leader who still holds influence without wielding any official authority.
Elected positions have a sturdier power base and aren’t as vulnerable to lack of deservedness. It’s difficult for people to argue when they were the ones that gave you the position. Being elected means you were chosen to have authority, whether that’s the leader of a country, company board or a committee. Regardless of politics and other structures, if you were elected into power, it’s usually because you deserved it.
Lastly, power can come from a position you have created yourself. Identifying a niche within your company or department and owning that discipline or skill e.g. a deep knowledge of the companies policies, an understanding of company politics or even being the best with Microsoft Excel. If you create a demand for a skill you have, you have slightly more influence than before.
Power of personality comes from your strength of character, often labelled as charisma. Your personality draws people to you and the way you conduct yourself inspires.
Charisma is a difficult quality to define, similarly to how it’s hard to emulate being cool. There are things that charismatic people have in common however.
The first is that they often radiate joy and excitement. They are passionate about what they believe in and it triggers strong emotions in the people around them. There passion is rooted in a sense of confidence – they understand their world and their place in it. Charismatic people know their strengths are confident in their abilities and they inspire other to have that same confidence in themselves.
This passion and confidence becomes something altogether different – conviction. They have strong beliefs and they are consistent in their actions and are commitment to their cause. This commitment is felt by others who yearn to follow.
A key part of charisma, is the ability to tell a storyteller. They can get to the emotional core of almost any subject and make it deeply relate to their audience and the actions they want to inspire. This is made up by their tone of voice, their rhythm and the way they make eye contact.
Lastly, they can connect with you on an emotional level. A charismatic person can be in a room of hundreds, but when they address an individual, they make them feel special, valued and interesting. Someone giving us this level of personal attention can be addicting in a world of me, me, me.
More than anything the power of personality is the holy grail for politicians – if people like and respect you, you can inspire loyalty and lead a group of people in a direction of your choosing.
Power of ideas is evident in silicone valley and in creative agencies. Your creativity can inspire solutions to problems that baffle others. Coming up with ideas is actually a pretty straightforward process and we all have the ability to generate some pretty cracking ones. In this scenario, lateral thinking is key.
The term lateral thinking was introduced by Edward De Bono in 1967 and refers to taking an indirect approach to solving problems by side-stepping standard logic. When job descriptions say that the ideal candidate can “think outside the box”, it’s lateral thinking ability there referring to.
Solutions produced by lateral thinking tend to seem fairly obvious in hindsight, but aren’t visible when thinking about the problem. Because of the nature approach, lateral thinking tends to highlight other problems which might be unnoticed otherwise.
To think laterally, you’ll have to look at the problem from a different viewpoint. It’s all too easy to think rigidly when your inside a situation and ignore patterns and evidence which would lead to a certain cause or solution.
Einstein summarised this very well when he said “problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework within which the problems were created.” You have to go outside to do so. The massively overused term, thinking outside the box applies well to lateral thinking.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Ideas without action are useless things and for your ideas to have value, you have to be very skilled at implementing them. No matter your arena, if you can come up with creative solutions to problems and then carry them out you’ll have your colleagues and often your superiors coming to you to help make things happen.
Power of intellect is the expression of your analytical ability and your capacity to grasp facts and put them in order. Analysis is simply being able to take a look at a situation or set of facts and using common sense, logic and your existing knowledge, come up with a detailed explanation of the situation – usually with suggestions on how to improve.
This is luckily something which can be learned. You can become a skilled analyst by learning about logic and the processes logicians follow to come to conclusions. But if you really want to take it to the next level and stand out, you’ll want to learn a variety of models, which serve the dual purpose of helping you to organise and process the information, but present it in a recognisable and easy to follow format. Using such models also inspire trust in your results and your methods.
Combined with the power of ideas, you could carve yourself out a niche as consigliere.
Power to communicate is your ability to get across an idea or message in a way that resonates with people, both individually and in groups. The ability to communicate well is a precursor to being able to influence and persuade. This skill ties in very much with charisma and the power of personality, but they’re not always linked.
Imagine you have 2 politicians, one who is charismatic and likeable, but not great at sharing his beliefs, policies and messages. The second politician, while not as charismatic or instantly likeable, is a great communicator and is able to share his message with millions of people in a way that they can understand. This person stands a much better chance at being elected.
Communication in this way relies very much on knowing your audience, knowing what is important to them and knowing exactly how they like to communicate. There’s no use sending an email to a person that prefers face to face interaction or calling someone who’d just prefer you sent an email. This understanding of people can come from a knowledge of a person’s history, body language and personality – all of which can be learned.
Power to invest either money or resources is another form of actual power. It’s also a very visible form of power something that can be measured in numbers i.e. the Forbes rich list. In the context we’re likely to be looking at, it deals with the ability to invest money or resources into an idea, person or department.
Money or resources can be used to solve problems that influence alone couldn’t manage. Investing in a person’s ideas, projects or even development can not only gain you loyal friends and supporters, but can provide you with better resources (skilled people).
Investing in ideas or companies, especially if successful can bring profit and therefore increase your ability to invest, and thus your power.
Power to reward people financially or through recognition. Part of this power is also the freedom to remove people from situations where they are not succeeding. Most managers, if they have authority over their own staff, have this power. They are able to hire and fire, award bonuses or pay rises or even discipline through suspensions and other means.
Unfortunately, in most workplaces, the respect and authority we assign to people is usually thanks to that person’s ability to discipline or fire us. In this respect, the power the manager has is based on fear.
Conversely, a manager has the power to reward people who show the behaviours and results that the manager values. This is linked to the power to invest as managers are able to choose which projects to invest the budget in.
Power to manipulate is the most well-known form of power as it’s depicted in TV shows such as A House of Cards and Game of Thrones constantly. Manipulation is powered by a person’s ability to communicate their ideas well, though they may be fabrications or twisting of the truth. At it’s heart, manipulation plays on fear – fear that someone else is trying to damage your position, fear of failure, fear of physical attack, fear of losing a job etc. Blackmail, threats and other psychological manipulation are also powered by fear.
The most common form of manipulation in the workplace is through positive and negative reinforcement, usually through rewarding or punishment of certain behaviours. Manipulation relies on a number of the qualities listed above such as the power to communicate and often the power to invest/reward.
As we’ve established power can come from many places and if you take a look at some of your favourite or least favourite leaders, they’ll all some combination of the above qualities. The lucky thing is that the majority of them can be learned. If you’re interesting in reading more about power and influence take a look at The 48 Laws Of Power and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.