The power dynamic

Where does your power come from?  There’s a certain individual in the political sphere trying to make his power felt across the globe at the moment, but what gives him that power?  Is it the power of experience, knowledge, being trusted and respected?  Is it legitimate based on his position and right to issue demands?  Is it through punishment for non-compliance and making people scared?

I’m not one for dabbling in politics really, but at a recent work-related training session we discussed Power Bases.  Where we, as management and leaders within our organisation, get our power from. This resonated in today’s current situation in Ukraine.

There are six power bases that leaders and managers fall into, they may even overlap:

  • Reward – the ability to reward, give bonuses, supporting someone in career development
  • Coercive – punishment through non-compliance, scaring people into submission
  • Legitimate – job title or position and right to issue commands
  • Referent – trusted and respected.  Seen to treat everyone fairly
  • Expert – experience or knowledge.  Qualification or experience
  • Informational – controlling the information others need, withholding or oversharing

I image we’d all think that this individual (and I’m not going to give the dignity of using his name) is probably using a mixture of legitimate power, because he’s the leader of his country and can issue commands, coercive power by either scaring his own military, or certainly those people whose country he has invaded into submission through punishment.  He may even be using informational power by controlling what he says to anyone group of people to try to keep the upper hand. He may well be using reward power to certain members of his government, promising promotion etc if they do as he commands.  I certainly don’t see him as having referent power, especially outside of his own country.

When we go on leadership training, we are often asked to name great leaders.  People think of Lincoln, Mandela, Ghandi, Churchill, very few women ever named.  Occasionally someone would thrown in a name like Hitler and receive much derision.  You could argue Hitler was a great leader.  A definition being “a person influences and motivates others to get involved in accomplishment of a particular task… All great leaders had something unique about them and yet they were bound by greatness that helped them to lead masses to innovation and new ideologies.” Leadership and 10 Great Leaders from History – Industry Leaders Magazine

Hitler could be a described as a great leader given how successful he was at getting the masses to follow his ideologies.  So is the current tyrant, imposing his power over others, also a great leader?  He obviously thinks so and seems to have convinced his government and military that its perfectly ok to invade another country whilst bare-faced lying to the rest of the world. I’m sure the rest of the world probably thinks he’s a crazed, despotic dictator. He’s using whatever power he has to control events.

When we think about the power we have over others, particularly when we are in a leadership position how much do we take for granted, or even consider the effects on others, based on our power base?


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