How is it that some people are consistently able to gain promotions year after year? These are also the colleagues who seem to get the most juicy bonuses and perks regularly. The secret is managing ‘up’ using power. In our work relationships, one of the most important allegiances we need to build is the one with our superior. But the trick lies in understanding what our true power is, and then using that effectively, openly, and honestly.
Many researchers – from Hubert M. Blalock to sociologist Paul Wehr – did studies and wrote about the seven bases of power. In short, these power bases are: coercive power; reward power; position power; connection power; expert power; resource power; personal power. According to Wehr, these aspects of power can be used effectively in a “power strategy mix” as a combination of “carrots, sticks and hugs” if you want to gain your desired result.
A positive consequence such as a reward or an increase in profits would be seen as a “carrot,” while a “stick” would be a negative consequence, such as prosecution by the IRS if certain tax rules are not followed. A “hug” would be a social or personal affiliation reward – these could sometimes be used effectively in establishing a rapport with a superior, from person to person, and it could be effective if it is genuine.
In the end, we are all people in families and communities as well. The trick is to understand your manager’s style and then adapting to it. Let’s now look at the seven power bases and what they mean.
Coercive power refers to the capacity to force others to act in a certain desired way – by creating a fear of negative consequences if they don’t. Coercive power is the most primitive approach and is not likely to achieve positive influence and long-lasting results, since it is negative by its nature. Still, it is quite amazing how many organizations still try to use this power base today – and then they are puzzled when they find a high staff turnover rate in their business.
The power of “Reward” is the strategy which relies on control over distribution of meaningful reward, such as wage increases, cool projects and promotions. Here the manager makes it clear that your promptness of responsiveness, for example, will be rewarded by a bonus at the end of the year.
Many companies these days define very clear “performance metrics” which are signed off by managers and employees and in which employees can provide their input. These measures are directly derived from certain job tasks and performance levels and are explicitly used in the “performance review” which is typically done twice a year and which directly determines an employee’s bonus.
Here it’s important to understand our role in the determination of the performance metrics and to participate fully and enthusiastically in this process. In these metrics and negotiations, we could use our “Expert Power,” which we will discuss a bit later.
Position power is the power a person has because of a formal position of authority in the hierarchy or “pecking order” of the organization. An example would be a CEO. Mark Zuckerberg, for example. Nobody at Facebook would tell Mark Zuckerberg that he is wrong or that they don’t want to execute his request, simply because of who he is.
For most of us, it takes a number of years before we attain position power in our work arena, and when we do, we need to use it carefully in combination of other powers, such as personal power – that rare spark which inspires true respect and which could be long-lasting.
Connection power is “who you know” – we see this power used a lot in politics, where peoples’ contacts are quite important in the race to success. However, connection power could also be used very effectively in our work circles and our career, where we are often able to gain a foot in the door because of someone we know at a company.
Websites such as LinkedIn.com are great examples of social media tools used by millions of people in the quest for at least some connection power. But again, connection power needs to be used in combination with other strategies in the power mix. I wrote before how we should focus on really building relationships in our career and consistently be trustworthy, since our reputation will follow us for the rest of our working life.
This under-rated power is authority gained through knowledge and skills – for example the technical work of a software engineer. Here many of us have more power than we realize. If you’re working in a technical field, examine for a moment why you were hired in your current position.
Did the company hire you because they had a need for a web developer or mobile developer with specific know-how? Then you need to realize that your superiors don’t have your level of knowledge in the particular field, and you should honestly and openly build on that power by making sure you stay on top of your niche.
Make use of available training courses, dig into new technologies and carve out a niche for yourself. If you have skills which are not found around every corner out in the market, then certainly your compensation will reflect that. Or if you are not paid accordingly, be willing to find an employer who does value your expert abilities.
This type of power often goes hand-in-hand with position power and reward power. It contains the ability to control the supply of valuable resources. This power is often used in war or in politics. An example is where Russia stopped the disbursing of an emergency loan to Ukraine.
Sadly and shockingly, this kind of power was often used in sieges where citizens of cities of towns were ‘starved out’ by enemy invaders, such as the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1996, or the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.
Closer to home, we may gain resource power when we become a team leader and can decide whether our team members get to go to conferences or training courses. And we could use this power effectively to motivate people who value the building of their Expert Power as we discussed above.
Personal power needs to be earned. This is the type of power which comes from obtaining the respect of other people. Great examples of people with tremendous personal power are luminaries such as Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or President Obama. Personal power is a highly influential power form and it can be lasting.
Some legendary CEOs, such as Steve Jobs, had that special spark which inspired people to follow them for their entire career. The reason is if we truly respect someone, we are likely to value their opinion and trust in their ability to make good choices which will steer the ship (and the crew) in a positive direction. A leader with personal power is someone who consistently makes excellent decisions.
Whether we realize it or not, we all have some power in our relationship with our superiors and even our families. The key is to be authentic and use our true power effectively which also constantly building and growing it.