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The Kind of Power That Builds Influence

Being a “boss” is secondary to being a leader...

Think about your worst boss. What was it that made that person so insufferable? How well did you perform under that person’s leadership?

Now think about your best boss. How did that boss behave? How well did you perform under that person’s leadership?

I’ll bet my doctorate that the best boss made you feel respected and valued. The worst one made you feel unimportant, like a replaceable cog in a wheel. I wager you performed better under the best boss. What separates the two experiences?

The type of power they used.

It can be intoxicating to be the boss.

As soon as you walk into the office everyone knows the boss just walked in. You’re the rock star in your own company. Conversely, you may also be the Julius Caesar in your own company, unaware that a coup is underway.

Being a “boss” is secondary to being a leader, and to be a leader you have to separate yourself from the fact that you happen to be the boss. You can’t simply say, “Follow me! I’m the leader!”

You have to show why your team should follow you. You have to empower them to follow you. You have to create the culture that breeds collaboration and freedom of thought so people feel like themselves and not subservient mice.

Who will believe in and trust you the most? Who will most likely heed your sage advice? Those people with whom you have built strong, positive relationships, which doesn’t come from reminding people you are the boss.

Oftentimes when someone is put into a supervisor role they feel they must leave their human nature behind and become some sort of robocop. This is actually the fastest way to destroy your influence.

Influence hinges on personal buy-in

If you’ve ever been in a supervisor role – or placed someone in a supervisor role – and asked the question, “Why don’t people buy into me/him/her?” the first place to look is the type of power this person is employing.

In 1959 psychologists John French and Bertram Raven developed a framework for understanding different types of power. Bertram Raven, Arie Kruglanski, and Paul Hersey, working with Marshall Goldsmith, expanded that original framework into seven distinct types of power:

  • Legitimate Power: This power arises from one’s title or position in the pecking order and how others perceive that title or position. If you rise to CEO and people believe you deserve it you will be able to exercise your legitimate power.
  • Coercive Power: This power comes from fear. Someone who uses coercive power influences others by threat and force. Failure to comply will lead to punishment. If Bob bullies his people, threatening to demote or fire them if they do not get results, he is wielding coercive power.
  • Expert Power: This arises directly from a person’s skills or expertise or from perceived skills or expertise. Expert power is knowledge-based. If you hold an MBA or PhD your colleagues are more inclined to accede to your expertise, which gives you influence.
  • Informational Power: This arises from the possession of wanted information. People with high informational power wield influence because they control access. If you are the only one with the password to a secret file, for example, people will always defer to you when they need access to that file.
  • Reward Power: This power motivates people to respond in order to win raises, promotions, and awards.
  • Referent Power: This depends on personal traits and values, such as honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness. People with high referent power can highly influence anyone who admires and respects them.
  • Connection Power: This power creates influence by proxy. People with this type of power build important coalitions with others. They influence everyone who wants to gain the favor or avoid the disfavor of those coalitions.

There is a strong relationship between credibility, influence, and power. When it comes to influencing people without creating potentially negative effects, referent, expert, informational, and legitimate power tend to get the best results.

Coercive, connection, and reward power require more careful application because they rely upon a higher degree of trust and risk and can easily become manipulative. There’s no real influence except the fear of losing one’s job and reputation.

A successful leader often relies on referent power to influence people because it most effectively breed credibility. The effective use of referent power involves developing a number of important and not easily acquired skills:

  • Ability to manage boundaries
  • Ability to maintain strength of character
  • Make a clear and compelling presentation
  • Adapt communication to the listener
  • Forge trust
  • Display empathy

All of the above require a daily commitment to self-awareness, which is no easy task. Referential power, in its most basic form, aims at establishing rapport, a relationship of mutual trust and emotional connection.

When it comes to the quality of influence between two people, it all rests on one of the basic tenets of human nature:

We like listening to and are willing to follow those people who sincerely respect and value us and whom we also respect and value.

Are you interested in how you’re interacting with people or only in what you can get from them?

Good leaders gain influence by nurturing relationships grounded in trust and confidence. As a result people buy into their message.

The best companies invest in their people. In return, their people perform better, stay longer, are more engaged, and achieve better customer loyalty. (oh, and they make more money!)

At Equilibria Leadership Consulting our motto is “Don’t just manage…Lead!” By bringing human nature back into business, Equilibria develops your leaders, your culture and your company.

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