Elixan Consulting
Performance Leadership Engagement


leadership, culture, performance

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The power games people play

Power is a dirty word that polite people don't like to talk about it.  Yet, we all exercise power and influence every day.  So, it is worth considering what kind of power you want to exercise, whether it aligns with your values and brand, whether it is suitable for the context and what impact on others.

So, which kind of power do you use?

Position power comes from the role you have in the hierarchy. It is the legitimate authority that you have over those 'below' you in the organisation. Essentially, with position power you can ask people to do things because of the role you have. It is a non-personal form of power, when you are out of the job you no longer have the power. This type of power can be useful to exercise in hierarchical organisations.  However, exercising this form of power in a highly relational context is a big no no, and will really put people off. If you use this type of power at best you will achieve compliance but not internalisation.  

Expertise power comes from your training, qualifications and experience. This is a personal form of power and is earned through the knowledge and skills that you have. Expertise could be gained in formal qualifications, through work experience and through your reputation for getting the job done.  Exercising this power is useful when solving a technical problem. However, if you use this type of power in a context where expertise is not sought, it will look like you are just trying to be the smartest person in the room. When using this kind of power, remember to explain why something is important.  If people understand the 'why', they are more likely to identify with the need for your request.

Task allocation power comes from the importance of the particular tasks or functions that you carry out. The more important your role is in achieving the organisation’s strategy, the higher your task allocation power. Power flows to those who work to identify and solve the organisation’s emergent problems and threats. So, if you are looking to increase this type of power, look to develop control over resources and activities that involve one or more of the organisation’s critical strategies.  Use this power to allow others to benefit from the outputs of your work and keep developing your skills in areas that are important capabilities for the organisation.  

Information power comes from the quality and quantity of a person’s communications and interactions with others.  It is their ability to be 'in the know'. A person who has a strong network inside and outside the organisation is likely to have high information power.  Be careful in how you share your information, as you don't want to get branded as a gossip.  If you cannot be trusted, people may no longer share useful information with you. 

Coalition power comes from working closely with other groups or people who are important to the organisation. This is about power is about who you know. Coalitions could be within the organisation or outside with key suppliers or customers. Be careful how you use this power as no one likes overusing name dropping.

Referent power comes from the extent to which people identify with or are ‘attracted’ to a person because of their views, personal qualities and opinions. This source of power is a form of charisma that comes from your personal qualities.  Being a consistent role model is important here. To increase this form of power, get to know the motives, preferences, values and interests of others.  Be supportive and never manipulate or exploit people for your personal advantage.  

You can use more than one type of power.  In fact, being adaptable in how you exercise power in various different contexts is really important. Which will you use today?