Power means, very simply, getting someone to do the things you want them to do. One of the few things that irks me in my job as a trainer is the number of times people say they are powerless. Are they really? We all have more power than we could possibly realise.
Types of power
Now, there are different source of power and some are more effective than others. Some you have and some you may not. We’ll have a quick run through the types of power available. You can decide for yourself which ones you have and what might work best to you.
Let’s start with the nasties. If you’re under five years old, weigh less than seven stone or are feeling poorly there is a chance I might physically be able to force you to do my will. Using physical force would be easy for the big guys. Something I might be better at is using your lack of confidence or insecurities to bamboozle you with big words, fancy arguments or emotional blackmail.
These, obviously, are the tactics of bullies. If I did either of these things, I might get you to do my will immediately but as soon as the situation is over, what would you think of me? Your loyalty to me would be over the hills and far away. You would resist coming into contact with me again as far as possible. So, instant results that are no use for a long term relationship or working together. If you work in HR, you may well have had to deal with complaints about bully tactics.
Not so bad…
Let’s try the second group of power sources. These are around authority and compliance – legitimate power. If I am the local bobby on the beat and I ask you to get off your bike, you probably will. If I’m your boss and ask you to run to the post office, you probably will. You won’t think that badly of me either. You comply with my wishes because I have some authority over you.
There are other types of power that will get you to comply, which are around social norms – the way we do things. We stand in queues, clap at concerts, put clothes on before we leave the house.
Where is your loyalty when these types of power are used? Well, nowhere, really. We’re pretty indifferent. We comply, but with little or no attachment to the source of power. This is why compliance is not the same as employee engagement. If your staff comply, they are probably not doing much more than the minimum to get by.
The Good Guys!
You don’t need to be a genius to work out that none of the above is sufficient if you want others to be committed, loyal, respecting us and, well, doing things for us!
Fortunately, there are two sources of power that can help here. The first is the power of expertise. If someone knows more than us, we tend to look up to them, especially when that information is important to us. We usually respect doctors, solicitors, leaders in our own field and those who share our interests. That is one reason people blog – to let others see what it is they know. This is an important source of power not only for HR, but all kinds of other in house experts – such accountants and marketeers. you may not have direct line management over other departments, but you certainly can influence using your power of expertise.
And lastly (drum roll please…) is the biggie – your personal power. People want to be associated with you because of something about you that attracts them. The charisma of fame comes into this category, but so does your sense of humour, friendliness, sunny disposition, reliability and willingness to go the extra mile. It might just be that you are good to be around – the type of person that gives to others rather than draining them.
These types of power inspire commitment.Don’t underestimate your expertise, and make sure you recognise the aspects of your behaviour that give you personal power.
Which are you using?
Think of your key challenges – which sources of power are you using? Which ones are available to you? How could you attract more goodwill by using your personal power? I’d love to know!
This is a very simplified overview. If you want to read more, look up French and Raven. Changing Minds has an article here
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here