Principles of Power
Raise your hand if you have some form of power at work? When we ask participants this question in our on-site training sessions, typically only people with titles of manager, supervisor and those who have direct reports raise their hands. At the end of the training, they all raise their hands after discovering each of them have some form of power that can be leveraged effectively with the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
To whom much is given much is required, and power comes with significant amounts of responsibility. Maintaining ethics as a leader means recognizing your power and preventing the increasing misuse and abuse of power. The abuse of power has become a national concern in the public and private sectors of today's workplace. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 61% of bullies are managers, supervisors and senior level leaders, and the primary targets of their abusive power is women. Understanding the types of power, its consequences, and power differentials can help managers and leaders prevent the abuse of power with others.
Power: is the capacity to affect another person's situation and/or compel others to do something they may not have done otherwise.
Types of Power
There are five types of power that are frequently observed in the workplace...
- Position: capacity to direct others and expect compliance for specific expectations. This is inherited formal power due to your title, level of authority and occupancy of position
- Reward: capacity to impact others with praise and recognition and by controlling the distribution of desired tangible rewards (monetary, and non-monetary)
- Expert: capacity to influence others due to the perception of having superior skills, knowledge and being a subject matter expert and withholding or sharing of knowledge
- Personal: capacity to attract and influence others because of physical appeal, loyalty, respect, charm, charisma, friendship, admiration, desire to gain approval from, or desire to be associated with
- Coercive: capacity to compel others with fear and intimidation due to the perceived capacity to penalize or punish for noncompliance
Remember, It is not necessarily what you do that makes you powerful, but what you are perceived to be capable of doing. Some managers like to downplay their power and act like they don't have any, however not being aware of your power can create leadership blind spots in situations known as power differentials.
Situations in which a powerful person places a less powerful person in a vulnerable position is a "powerful differential." For example, a manager could create a power differential using coercive power by making it appear that if a person does not do what's desired, they will be retaliated against or experience consequences in some form (denied promotion, poor evaluation, etc...) and if they do perform what's desired, then they will receive praise and rewards in some form. Think of a senior level leader asking the intern or administrative support person for unusual favors, or the salaried supervisor who praises hourly employees who don't take breaks and work extended hours without asking for overtime.
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