Focusing Power & Influence

Machiavelli cast a dark light on leaders who acquire power. However power is necessary to influence others. — By Santi di Tito – Cropped and enhanced from a book cover found on Google Images., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9578897

Wise leaders understand and obtain power at many levels. While the opening statement may sound Machiavellian and cause some to turn away, power is necessary to influence others to accomplish tasks that grow and improve the organization. Leaders set agendas. Without power, leaders cannot influence others to do the work required to accomplish organizational goals and mission. By definition, leaders do not work alone. A solopreneur is not a leader. If you are a solo act there are not others to lead. If you want to lead others, you need to acquire and harness power to influence others.

Influence is the tool required to use power to effectively inspire others. Think of influence like the lens of a spot light and power as the light source. The leader uses influence to focus the power like a lens focuses light illuminating the objective so followers know where to go and what to do.  Leader have five sources of power: referent, expert, coercive, legitimate and reward. Leaders who understand each power source and how to effectively weld it will successfully influence others to take actions that result in task accomplishment.

Referent power is likability. A more common word, is charisma. This source of power may get you in the door, but rarely lasts long except with those who are weak. A leader who relies solely on referent power loses followers when he has to start making unpopular decisions. Everyone wants a raise every year but sometimes raises hurt the organization. If people become upset because the leader made the unpopular decision not to give raises the leader loses all his power. Referent power is a great asset but must be supplemented with other sources of power if the leader expects to sustain success.

Expert power stems from one’s special or in-depth skills or knowledge about at topic or area. This provides power in two ways. The first is like the artillerymen of old who guarded the secrets of their craft so their skills would always be in demand by armies. If the battlefield commander wanted to use artillery, he had to rely on those with that special skill and knowledge. The second yet potentially fleeting source is through the ability to teach others your skill or knowledge. When you share those secrets that have made you successful, you have the potential to create rivals and replacements. Alternatively, you could also develop collaborators who desire to achieve more than either of you could alone. There is a saying that a manager is measured by numbers or things produced, sold, fixed and similar measures whereas a leader is measured by the number of leaders he creates. Even if others develop the same skills and knowledge as you, if you continue to perfect your skills and knowledge you will always be ahead of those you teach.

Legitimate, reward and coercive often go together but not always. Legitimate power is granted when someone is place in a recognized leadership position within an organization. A CEO, General Manager, or Shop Foreman all have legitimate power. It is power given to them by the organization to make things happen. With this power, people do things just because you say to do them.  Like referent power, this source is also limited. You lose control of people when they quit and go work with another organization. Consequently, leaders in positions of legitimate power use reward and coercive power.

Water uses the power provided by gravity to influence the motion of the waterwheel. Without the power of gravity water would not fall and the waterwheel would not turn. Focusing the power of gravity allows people to use the waterwheel to create a wide assortment of things. — Photo by form PxHere

Examples of reward power include the ability to dole out pay raises, promotions, cool assignments, and prime parking spaces. Examples of coercive power include employment termination, demotions, and selecting someone else’s pet project. Reward and coercive power does not solely rest with recognized organizational leaders. Sales reps can influence behavior by offering a better price or withholding the latest product based on previous purchasing decisions.

Each of these power sources have advantages and drawbacks. Sources of power are like tools; the more you have in your tool box, the greater your abilities. A leader who wields legitimate, referent, and expert power will likely be more successful than the leader who only has referent power. Good leaders learn which power sources to use in different circumstances. Their influence grows as they increase their ability to use each source of power enabling them to accomplish more and influence more people.

As leaders practice their leadership skills they increase the power options available. Using a variety of tools shape followers into quality employees, volunteers and future leaders. When they show those future leaders how to use the full spectrum of leadership tools, they prepare the organization for continued success well into the future as new leaders learn to adjust the focus and intensity of the organization’s spotlight.

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