Power comes in different forms. We tend to automatically associate it with position and job title but we have all known bosses and team leaders who just don’t cut it and we have all known less elevated work colleagues who carry a lot of clout.
Relying on only one source of influence is risky — if it goes, you have nothing to fall back on. A better idea is to identify a number of areas in which you can acquire and develop the attributes which are associated with power.
Some types of power are:
Being in a position of status
If you are in a higher position than others, you have legitimate power over them. This is something which comes with the territory, and you will only have this kind of authority if you have a formal position.
Being an expert
People with knowledge and expertise are in a powerful position when their particular skills are essential for success. Knowing how a particular program works, being able to decipher statistics, having in-depth knowledge of a market, being able to negotiate, being a credible source of advice are just a few of the ways in which expertise gives you power.
If you want to carve out this area for yourself, be prepared to update and to continue learning, so that you can meet changing requirements. Unless you’re the only one in the office who knows how the coffee machine works, in which case your value is sky-high, you need to regularly broaden your scope.
Knowing where the bodies are buried can give you a winning hand. Even less juicy information can be an asset and boost your power base — but only for a short time. Once you have given the info, you have given away your power. You need to replenish the well, and make sure to develop other sources of influence also.
Being able to offer rewards
Those with the remit to hire and fire and to give financial rewards are in powerful positions. Rewards can come in various guises, however, and not all of them are tangible. If you have information, contacts, access to certain people or activities, you have something you can offer as a favour or reward. Praise, feedback, thanks are also ways of rewarding people.
We have influence with people who like us and admire us. By learning and practising interpersonal skills, you can develop the kind of persona which attracts others and establishes their confidence in you.
Being a good listener, for example, is often cited as one of the qualities of a good leader. This kind of power depends on reputation and image, but consistent interpretation and application of ‘soft skills’ will mean that your reputation is earned.
Having internal strength
Integrity and personal consistency are qualities which shape your influential position. Someone who is known to be strong in their beliefs and values and who is able to stand up to challenges is respected and has a powerful voice. This kind of power, which is linked to the previous one, is long-lasting.
Having access to resources
It could be the key to the stationery cupboard, it could be control of the budget, it could be control of petty cash or the allocation of rooms– when you are the conduit between a person and their need, boy, are you powerful!
Maintaining a good network
If you have a lively network of contacts, your access to people is something that others will want to tap into.
Engaging with large numbers of people, both personally and professionally, means that you increase the number of potentially valuable contacts who could be made available. When you can bring people together, facilitate introductions, pass on contacts, offer invitations, you have useful capital. You can use this power to build alliances and coalitions.
Responsible use of power
So when you have discovered your own sources of power (flex muscles, adjust those shoulder pads), how do you use it? You could of course exploit your advantage in order to claw your way to the top, but isn’t that a little, you know, 1980s? And such behaviour has a way of backfiring on us.
A more thoughtful, measured, responsible approach will show you that power gives you the ability to influence the course of events and the way that other people behave. You can use your personal power to:
- gain promotion
- add value to the organisation
- be an effective leader
- negotiate confidently
- bring about change
- create strong working relationships
- motivate others
And you could also use it for ignoble ends. But you wouldn’t do that, would you?
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