When English politician and historian John Dalberg-Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt,” he was painting with a broad brush. There are many types of power, and while some are corrupting, others can bring out the best in people. When leaders leverage their power effectively, they can improve morale and increase productivity.
The proper use of power is to the abuse of power as democracy is to autocracy. When a leader leverages their credibility and influence to invite others to participate in decision-making, the people on the ground feel ownership of the results, much like voters in a democracy. When a leader governs like an autocrat, people usually only participate reluctantly, if at all. Work still gets done in an organization ruled with an iron fist, but turnover is often high and sustainability is often low.
There are many different types of power, but the four highlighted here represent the most common ways leaders bring their power to the fore. Here’s what you need to know about each to exercise influence effectively:
Inspiring your desired behavior by wielding the stick — exercising control by threatening some form of punishment for noncompliance — is what coercive power looks like in practice.
In some cases, it can be extremely effective. For example, the possibility of being caught and punished generally deters crime, which is an important component of the criminal justice system. However, coercive power is not effective in all settings. Those who leverage coercive power to implement their agendas aren’t perceived as leading so much as intimidating. Using fear to complete a project might get you across the finish line, but don’t expect everyone to stick around to celebrate.
If you catch yourself saying things like, “If you don’t want this job, I’ll find someone else who does,” or using intimidation to get those reports submitted on time, remind yourself there is definitely a better way. Remember that the employee you berate today could be the colleague whose support you desperately need tomorrow. Sure, you should set expectations and boundaries, but do so in a way that reinforces the greatest good.
When power is derived from a formal position within an organization’s hierarchy, it usually comes with the authority to make demands and expect others to be compliant. However, this power may also be conferred upon you by someone with even greater authority, which can be a little tricky. If you combine legitimate power with coercive power, you might be invited to tender your letter of resignation sooner or later, so tread lightly.
The people you lead will almost always give you more of themselves when you treat them with respect, so wield your legitimate power with a soft touch. CEOs like In-N-Out Burger’s Lynsi Snyder and Southwest Airlines’ Gary Kelly are so beloved by their employees because they show appreciation and invite workers to contribute their best efforts to the company. While titles signal authority, they don’t always equal influence; be mindful of the difference.
Leaders who hold expert power are those with hard-earned knowledge and skill sets on which others rely. Their good judgment has been tested in battle, and as a result, it usually garners them no small amount of respect. Individuals who wield expert power are typically an organization’s thought leaders. Their peers hardly begrudge them their authority and commonly defer to their insights because they generally know more than anyone else in the room. However, even the most lauded of experts can lose credibility by being short on soft skills or falling victim to their ego, thereby marring the perceived value of their contributions and authority…