Using Power in the Workplace

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Using Power in the Workplace

By Jabrielle Vincee Delfin
Marketing Associate, Profiles Asia Pacific

Power, as defined by Dictionary.com is “the characteristic of those having authority or influence”.  So when we use power; we’re making the most out of our authority to get something. But as power is connected to influence, it is also connected to credibility. Everyone has power.  Everyone. “Power tends to get to people’s heads,” says Nicole Lipkin, author of What Keeps Leaders Up At Night. “We’re not really trained to handle power well.” But, I don’t believe that power is a bad thing. The issue happens to be what kind of power a person has and how someone uses that power. Here are special types of power found in the workplace, and why it’s important for leaders in the organization to understand what type of power they’re using.

Coercive power is correlated with people who are in a position to punish others. No matter how good of a leader you are, if you’re wielding coercive power and people fear the consequences of not doing what has been asked of them, you are leading with fear. This won’t win the respect and loyalty from your employees for long.

Connection power is based upon who you know.  This person knows of other powerful people within the organization. This power creates influence by proxy and is all about networking. You can attain this power by gaining favor and being a source of information for the people you connect with.

Expert power comes from a person’s expertise – from top-level skills and years of experience.  This is commonly a person with an acclaimed skill or accomplishment. Once you hold this knowledge, your peers will regard you as an expert. The great thing about this power is that no one can take it away from you. It’s knowledge that you hold. And in the words of Francis Bacon, “Knowledge is power”. However, in order to remain an expert and to keep your status and influence, you need to continue learning and improving.

Informational power is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility. For example, a project manager may have all the information for a specific project, and that will give her “informational power.” But it’s hard for a person to keep this power for long, and eventually this information will be released. This should not be a long-term strategy.

Legitimate power comes from the position a person holds.  This is related to a person’s title and job responsibilities.  This power happens when someone is in a higher position, giving them control over others. If you have this power, it’s necessary that you understand that this power was given to you (and can be taken away), so don’t abuse it.

Reward power is based upon a person’s ability to bestow rewards. This power is held by those who can motivate people to respond in order to win rewards. Those rewards might come in the form of job assignments, schedules, pay or benefits.

Referent power is possessed by people who are well-liked and respected. This is the most important and real power that leaders should adopt, because it’s all about the quality of the relationship developed with others and how those relationships are built. In short, when people perceive you in a power position, they are relying on you and there’s a lot you can achieve through influence.

Now, the two biggest mistakes I see with people’s use of power revolve around (1) trying to use power they don’t have and (2) using the wrong kind of power to achieve results.

To help you identify your ‘power zone’, take a moment and think about how you try to influence action from others.  You could use the descriptions above as a pseudo self-assessment.  Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 in each of the different kinds of power – with 1 being not at all characteristic of you and 5 being quite characteristic.

Not only will it help you identify the power you tend to use, but it can help you identify the way others use power with you.


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