3 P's of Leaders: Power, Politics, Persuasion (Part 3 of 3)

Read Part One Here

Read Part Two Here

The Power of Power

Power is ultimately defined as the ability to have things your way. When you need others to give their best efforts in the face of differing ideas and opinions, you need leverage – and powerful people use several strategies to advance their agendas.

  1. Leverage Resources.
    Whenever you have discretionary control over resources – money, equipment, space and/or information – you can use them to build a power base.
    Helping people evokes reciprocity, a universal drive to want to repay a favor – even without making it explicit that there’s a quid pro quo.
    Your ability to garner support becomes self-sustaining, as people want to join the “winning” side. Money is not the sole source of leverage. Access to information or key people can be even more valuable.
  2. Shape Behaviors with Rewards and Punishments.
    In international companies and governments, leaders reward those who help them and punish those who stand in their way. You may disagree with this approach, but it remains an important tool for building a power base.
    Leaders who effectively wield influence make it clear that subordinates will reap rewards if they help and problems if they refuse to pitch in.
  3. Make the Vision Compelling.
    It’s easier to exercise power when you’re aligned with a compelling, socially valuable objective. Similarly, power struggles inside companies seldom revolve around blatant self-interest. At the moment of crisis and decision, clever combatants typically invoke shareholders’ interests, company values and mission, and causes greater than short-term or personal interests.

Fair Play

You won’t go far – and neither will your strategic plans – if you cannot build and use power.

Some of the people who compete for advancement or stand in the way of your agenda will bend the rules of fair play and, in some cases, ignore them entirely.
Don’t bother complaining about this or wishing things were different. Part of your job is to know how to prevail in the political battles you face. You’ll succeed if you understand the principles of power and are willing to use them.


Persuasion has four elements:

1. Credibility: Credibility is built on trust and expertise, and it must be earned. People will believe you have expertise and are worthy of their trust if you exercise sound judgment and demonstrate a history of success.

2. An understanding of the audience: Identify the decision makers and centers of influence. Determine their likely receptivity and personal agendas.

3. A solid argument: What is perfectly sensible to you may elude others – especially those who are already opposed to your ideas and prepared to resist.

You can improve your chances of persuading them when your case:

a. Is logical and consistent with facts and experience
b. Strikes an emotional cord
c. Favorably addresses the interests of the parties you hope to persuade
d. Neutralizes competing alternatives
e. Recognizes and deals with the politics of the situation
f. Comes with endorsements from objective and authoritative third parties

4. Effective communication: Don’t mistakenly think that logic and rationality will win out and persuade people to your side. You may inadvertently trigger confirmation bias, a situation in which people become further entrenched in their own ideas.

Effective communication appeals to people’s emotions, tapping into universal human values and desires. Appeal to both hearts and minds if you want to build and sustain commitment to your strategic plans.

Office Politics

It’s naive to suggest that office politics are destructive and unethical. If you define politics in such a narrow way, you overlook the value of political awareness and skill. Political savvy, when combined with the right values, can be advantageous to you, your team and your organization.

To become politically savvy and build your power base:
1. Map the political terrain. First, identify all stakeholders – anyone who has an interest in, or who would be affected by, your idea – and how they will react. Some resistance is inevitable. You must anticipate others’ reactions, identify allies and resisters, analyze their goals and understand their agendas.

When you face objections, don’t go to individuals’ bosses or peers to undercut their arguments. Instead, ask them questions to determine their goals. Stakeholders may:

  • Share your goal, but not your implementation approach
  • Disagree with your goal, but share your approach to change
  • Share neither
  • Share both

You can identify potential allies and resisters with direct questioning.

2. Get them on your side. Build your coalition – a politically mobilized group committed to implementing your idea because doing so will generate valued benefits.

Creating coalitions is the most critical step in exercising your political competence. How do you win support? You need to be credible. You communicate credibility by letting potential allies and resisters know about your expertise, demonstrating personal integrity, and showing that you have access to important people and information.

3. Make things happen through leverage. You must win others’ buy-in by making it clear there’s a payoff for supporting your efforts and drawbacks for refusing to join your coalition. Show how implementing your idea will ease stakeholders’ workload, increase their visibility within the organization or help them cut departmental costs.

Once you’ve persuaded others to join your coalition, you’ve established a base that will legitimize your idea. Coalition members will then use their networks to evangelize for you.

Getting others to make changes and do things your way is risky and fraught with personal peril. Making your organization a better place is often at odds with personal advancement.

You can’t do it without power. Just be sure to create power in and with others, as opposed to using power over others.


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