Power — the ability to wield authority to influence events and people — can be essential to getting things done. And whether we realize it or not, all of us are in some way “power-full.” We all have abilities, traits, and resources we can draw on to influence others.
The source of each person’s power differs, however, and the usefulness of that power can depend on the situation. For example, you may enjoy great authority in your company, but that won’t matter much when it comes to coaching a kids’ soccer team. And while your business achievements may have gotten you a seat on the board of a non-profit organization, it’s typically the board members who have connections in high places who wield the power.
Understanding your sources of power can help you make better use of it. And if your power is concentrated in one source, investigating the other sources may help you augment your power. In work settings, power typically derives from five sources: information, expertise, position, relationships, and referred power.
We have all heard that knowledge is power. If you have a keen understanding of what is going on — whether in your organization or the world — people may seek you out and want to be in your network. Knowing the value of information at work, some people hoard it, refusing to share what they know. This misuse of power can damage a career, especially since so many organizations consider collaboration essential. Being willing to share what you know to help others increases your power as you develop a reputation for being in the know.
The information that’s the source of power doesn’t have to be closely held secrets. Keeping up with news and trends relevant to your job and organization — for example by reading newspapers and industry reports and attending conferences — can give you a perspective that other people don’t have. And being able to synthesize all that data into useful information and actionable ideas is truly powerful.
Whether you are a developer of AI programs or a kitchen remodeler, having skills in a particular area makes you much in demand and confers power and status. People value someone who has skills and expertise they lack. To make expertise truly powerful it is important to be able to explain what you do clearly using layman’s terms. When you share your expertise by training or mentoring others, your own power is increased.
To develop more expertise-based power, consider what your unique skills are. Stay up to date in that area by pursuing advanced training, attending conferences, and, if applicable, becoming certified in your field. Look for opportunities in your organization to work on projects that showcase your expertise.
Being in a position of authority comes with power, especially when the position has strategic importance in the organization. It can be gratifying to know that people will do what you tell them because you are in charge. But if you don’t have the interpersonal skills to accompany your commands, the power of your position may soon degrade. Telling staff to “do what I say because I’m the boss” may get compliance, but eventually, it leads to unmotivated staff who don’t respect the power of your position.
Who you know and have professional relationships with can go a long way to getting things done and cementing your power. It’s easy to build connections with people you currently work with, but relationship-based power stems from a network of colleagues you stay in touch with after you or they have gone on to work in other organizations. The power of your network grows exponentially when your first-degree connections share their network with you. Actively maintaining your network can help you learn more about other companies and industries and lead to valuable professional introductions. Sharing your connections with others will help them and make you a more valuable, and powerful, resource.
You can reinforce relationships and networks by using LinkedIn to stay connected. When your colleagues post, take a minute to give positive feedback on their ideas and if warranted, share with others. Offering to give colleagues recommendations on the app can show your appreciation and deepen the connection. If a recruiter calls you about a job that isn’t a fit for you, being able to refer colleagues shows the recruiter you are a valuable resource and lets your colleagues know you’re happy to help them advance in their careers. Another way to meet others and extend your network is to participate on organization-wide task forces or committees.
Referred power stems from proximity, that is by being close to someone powerful. Examples include an executive’s chief of staff or administrative assistant. Generally, people in those positions don’t take undue advantage of their referred power. However, it’s not unheard of for some to make requests of others that would have been news to the boss. But “wearing the boss’s stripes” and making too many specious requests in the boss’s name diminishes proximity-based power and authority.
Referred power can be challenging to manage and is best wielded honestly and strategically. Others can be irritated if they think of you as the boss’s gatekeeper, even though you are only carrying out your boss’s orders. It may be necessary for your boss to reiterate the importance of your position and the need for others to work with you.
Recognizing your power sources and using them for good can increase your ability to influence others and get things done. Make sure that you use your power to positive effect for the organization and not for personal gain.