Nearly all men can stand adversity,but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.–Abraham Lincoln
Every leadership class I have ever taken or given has a section devoted to power. I have, in the work environment, defined power as the ability to influence others’ actions and behaviors. Many, immediately thinks of power as a bad thing. I believe this stems from the abuse of power. Like Abe says, it is a true test of character to have power. We all have met our share of “Power Bullies”. People with a title, wielding their label like a saber. This is one type of power but there are all kinds of power in the workplace and I have broken them into three categories.
First, there is legitimate power. This includes positional power, coercive power and reward power. In this category, you have power based on your title or position and you use that to force people to do what you want. Usually, they are not acting how you want because they want to but rather, because they either fear or desire what you can do for them. Sure, this power works- for a while. Eventually, people will tire of being manipulated simply because you hold a position of power. If you have not earned their respect along with that title, you will not keep people motivated for long.
The next category is informational power. This includes expertise power (the “what you know”) or the connection power (the “who you know”). In business, leadership should have the knowledge of what they are doing and know the right people to forge solid relationships- this is almost a given. This power block does instill a little higher level of trust and devotion in the people you lead but is not enough in and of itself. So what is?
The final group is one type by itself and in my opinion the most coveted and powerful of all; referent power. This power comes from being liked and respected. People do what you want because they want to do it. No matter what you do or think, this power can not be bought or given- it is simply earned. It comes from having strong values and morals that others are aligned with such as trust, integrity and ethics. Even if your title is non-existent, people are gravitated to follow you. This makes you a true leader with real power.