Coach’s Corner Blog

Where Do You Get Your Organizational Power?

November 8, 2017 by Leave a Comment

Like a Boss

I was recently discussing a sensitive issue with a client regarding a senior member of his leadership team. The approach my client decided to take was both clever and empathic and avoided straining any relationships along the way.

I mentioned to him that I thought he had excellent political sensibilities and he responded by saying that he never wanted to be regarded as a corporate politician. I said that all politics are not necessarily negative but are the responses to different types of influence within an organization. I explained that the definition of influence is a behavioral response to the exercise of power.

Although this individual is an excellent leader, he still disliked the idea that he was using power to gain influence. We had a discussion of the different sources and bases of power for any type of leader.

Organizational Power

The base of most power in an organization comes from the position itself.

  • Leaders have the power to reward others extrinsically or intrinsically with money, promotions, verbal reinforcement and access.
  • They also have what is referred to as coercive power, the ability to deny desired rewards or use punishments like withholding increases to promotions or even firing those who “get out of line”.
  • Leaders also have legitimate power which emanates from their organizational authority. For instance, contracts in excess of a certain amount must be reviewed by the chief legal officer or spending may have limits unless approved by the chief financial officer. These are legitimate bases of power that come from the position, not the individual.

A good leader does not rely upon coercive power to get results but is also not afraid to use it when the situation demands; otherwise it’s irrelevant.

There are plenty of rewards that can motivate people besides promotions and salary increases, although these can be highly sought after.

My client’s organization coordinated over 700 employees contributing to two GoFundMe campaigns for employees who suffered from the hurricanes in both Houston and Florida. Total funds raised were about $175,000, of which half of that was a dollar for dollar match by the organization. These were grants given to employees in need and not only were the recipients fortunate, but it spread goodwill and pride throughout the entire organization.

Personal Power

Everyone has their own personal sources of power as well.

  • Expert power allows one to influence others based on the knowledge, experience or judgment that are valued within the organization. The individual must be recognized as an expert on specific subjects or systems and this is a relative power, not absolute, and can be time sensitive.
  • Some people have developed the power of rational persuasion, the ability to explain the desirability of various outcomes and how certain actions will achieve them. This can be both affirming for certain positions but also can argue against them as well.
  • Referent power allows one to influence another because they want to identify with the individual. This is also referred to as charisma and is found in a small portion of the population.

Your level of expertise about any topic area is something that you develop over time and through experience. You must continue to make investments in that expertise to ensure that you stay as current and timely as possible. There are those individuals that are said to have a broad range of knowledge about things but it’s only a few inches deep versus somebody whose knowledge is quite deep and extensive but narrow.

Hopefully you have the intellectual curiosity to manage and broaden your expertise as needed.

I think that rational persuasion is a very critical skill set and relates to both verbal and written interpersonal communications. An individual that can craft a compelling and respectful argument in response to any position can and should be highly prized in any organizational setting.

This is a skill that can be developed and honed throughout your career.

I’ve only known a few charismatic individuals in my life, but they draw others to them like an insect to the light. There are elements of charisma that can be learned, but most organizational settings require both expertise and rational persuasion beyond just being charismatic.

As you consider both the bases and sources of your power in any organizational setting, ask yourself:

  • Do I consider a broad range of rewards to motivate and influence members of my team?
  • Do I purposely invest in developing both my expertise and my powers of rational persuasion to enhance my influence in any situation?
  • Do I overly rely on any one base or source of power and fail to develop others to round out my overall influence skills?

I hope you find this post insightful and would welcome your comments and suggestions.



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