The Secrets of Personal Power


More than two millennia ago Chinese Philosopher, Lao Tzu, observed that people who perceived themselves to be powerless caused great turmoil in the world because of resentfulness and resistance. Bullies, for example, whether in a work team or on the national stage do not perceive themselves to be powerful, and the lives of people around them suffer as they seek to dominate through force and aggression.

Can we explore this notion of perceptions of power a little further? When many people think about power, the types of power they usually envisage are physical power, monetary power, or some other form of coercive power that renders others more compliant or yielding. And so, feelings of powerlessness can often emerge as we lament about our levels of dependence and reliance on others.

In this brief article you will encounter a different perspective on power - a perspective that has the potential to place you at "cause" in respect to exercising personal power, rather than being at "effect" and viewing yourself as a vassal of those who have more authority or physical bearing.

The first secret to personal power is to acknowledge that power is a perceptual phenomenon.

The extent to which you may influence, persuade or control others is wholly dependent on the way others perceive YOUR power, not the other way around. Power is all about perceptions and the most persuasive and enduring types of perceived power have little, if anything, to do with money, physical strength or authority.

The second secret is to know the categories of power and how they work. Below is a brief summary together with examples of when they are used most effectively:

Reward Power: You have the perceived power to give or dispense reward or favour. The power to influence and persuade on the basis of your capacity to deliver sought after benefits. People will follow you and behave in certain ways in anticipation of receiving those benefits.

Examples: Salary increments, promotion, membership of in-groups, desirable projects, special favours, sought-after work roles, inside knowledge, valuable information and tips, preferential treatment.

Coercive power: You have the perceived power to punish or remove rewards. The power to influence and persuade based on your capacity to penalise or take away desired benefits. People will act or do as you request to avoid undesirable outcomes.

Examples: Demotion, performance management, ostracising from in-group, limiting opportunities, threats of termination, threats of dire consequences, removal from information loop.

Expert Power: Expert power is based on perceptions of competence. Regretably, research has revealed that men are perceived to have greater competency, instrumentality and leadership ability than women. The research also shows that, in general, women may have to demonstrate they are superior in competence to men to be perceived as competent by both men and women.

Competence can relate to any field and can be seen to represent an amalgam of knowledge, skill, experience, ability, aptitude, learning and attitude.

Examples: People believe, follow and take seriously those who they perceive to have expertise or expert knowledge in a particular field. In terms of leadership, people tend to be more compliant and less questioning. Doctors, academics, lawyers, etc., are perceived to have expert power relative to their patients, students and clients. Leaders with strong leadership experience and a positive track record with their staff are seen as having expert ‘Leader’ power.

Legitimate Power: A person possess legitimate power to the extent that others believe/perceive the s/he has the right to influence or control others. Particular roles, such as policewomen, judge, manager, imply legitimate power in varying degrees. Parents have legitimate power over children and sometimes priests or ministers are seen to embody legitimate power over congregations. On other occasions, people feel an obligation to defer to perceived authority or to show respect to particular individuals whom they believe command it.

Legitimate power has similar gender issues to that of expert power. For example, modest, but not too modest, female leaders evoke more favourable reactions than overtly confident or self-promoting female leaders, whereas the opposite applies to male leaders.

Examples: Lawful directions and decisions by managers, acceptance of direction by a traffic policeman, deference to authority and status.

Referent Power: Referent power is connected to an individual’s or group’s likeableness or social attractiveness. Referent power is often view as a more ‘indirect’ form of influence. It also refers, as does other forms of power, on an individual or group’s need or desire to maintain relationships.

Referent power can be seen to draw on what are termed ‘soft skills’ because it centres on the maintenance of relationships, often through the power of personality and social skill. Women are generally perceived to have higher levels of referent power than men, however it has been shown to be appropriate for both genders.

People want to be like, or near, an individual with high referent power and are consequently influenced by him or her. The advantage of high referent power is significant in terms of influence. Referent power creates more ‘internalisation’ of influence because it is fuelled by internal feelings of identification with the referent individual

Examples: Referent power as an influencing strategy can involve such elements as fair and consultative leadership, higher levels of people ecology (EI), thoughtfulness, consideration of others, collaboration, external focus as opposed to self-focus, the use of non-declarative language, understanding and manipulating for mutual ends human and typological differences, engineering attractive leadership identities, the structure of messages to educe better reception.

Guess which combination of power categories create the highest levels of perception of power? Thankfully, research shows that a combination of referent and expert power creates the strongest perceptions of power

Referent and expert power are do-able, placing you as the cause of others' perceptions of your power. In my book, The Charisma Effect', I reveal how you can build up referent and expert power, both of which are the result of learning and trail and error!


1 comment:

Rådgivende ingeniørfirma said...

Awesome! The Secrets of Personal Power has really helped me because it gives me an idea what are the personal power of a person. Thank you so much.