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

(View Part One of this topic HERE.)

Sources of Power

There are three sources of power in an organization: positional, relational and personal:

  1. Positional power: Your title and job status confer some level of formal power. You are authorized to act within a certain scope, but it’s seldom sufficient to get things done.
  2. Relationships: Informal power stems from the relationships and alliances you form with others. If you do a favor for someone, the law of reciprocity impacts your relationship. Coalitions and alliances increase your relational power.
  3. Personal: Some people generate power based on their knowledge, expertise, technical competencies and ability to articulate ideas or a vision that others will follow. Your communication skills, charisma and trustworthiness help determine your personal power.

Currencies of Exchange

In their 1989 book, Influence Without Authority, Allan Cohen and David Bradford introduced the term “currencies of exchange,” a metaphor that teaches businesspeople how to acquire and expand their organizational influence.

Essentially, you can offer goods and services to a potential ally in exchange for cooperation. Currencies may take the form of technical assistance, information, lease of space or equipment, a plum assignment and the like. The key to using currencies is to understand what others want or value.

Power Without Authority

Effective use of power is becoming increasingly important, as many organizations are flatter, less hierarchical and cross-functional. This structural shift works best when leaders exert broad power and influence, without official authority.

While power skills are more important than ever, many executives shy away from developing them or fail to understand how they can expand and use them to full force.

Avoiding Power

No matter your position or title, you need power to push through any important agenda. Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of Power: Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t, cites three barriers that cause executives to shy away from using power to extend their influence.

1. The belief that the world is a just place: If you do a good job and behave appropriately, do you assume things will take care of themselves? When others make self-aggrandizing, envelope-pushing power plays, do you dismiss them instead of watching to see if you can learn something?

Believing in a just world makes you less powerful by:

a. Limiting your willingness to learn from all situations and people – even those you don’t like or respect
b. Anesthetizing you to the need to proactively build a power base – an outcome that blinds you to potentially career-damaging landmines

2. Leadership literature and popular business books: Many successful authors will tout their careers as models to emulate, but they’ll often gloss over the power plays they’ve used to get to the top.

Their books are filled with prescriptions for following your inner compass, being truthful, letting your feelings show, being modest and self-effacing, and shunning bullying behavior.

In truth, these authors are describing how they wish people in positions of power would behave. There’s no doubt the world would be a better place if leaders were always authentic, modest, truthful and concerned with others – but wishing won’t make it so.

3. Your delicate self-esteem: People want to feel good about themselves and their abilities. Any experience of failure puts their self-esteem at risk. If you fail to actively seek and gain power, you won’t view your lack of it a personal failure – a phenomenon known as “self-handicapping.”

Tomorrow….. Part 3: The Power of Power


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