Have you ever had someone on your team tell you emphatically… “If only so and so reported directly to me then I could get them to perform the way we need them to.”

  • Are you a believer in this type of power?
  • Does reporting relationship REALLY empower one person over another?
  • does influence have more value to an organization than simply power of position?

The answer to the first question should be No. The answer to the next question is yes and no. The reality is there is such a thing as organizational chart power and that an installed leader can control someone’s actions to some extent because they have direct reports. This simply defines power of position. However, you must ask what does this power mean and what value does it bring to an organization? That is to say, simply bestowing a title and a particular position in an org chart will not necessarily drive successful or desired outcomes.
Where, in an organizational chart, does influence fit? To some minds, Power and Influence are seen as the same thing, involving one’s ability to control an environment and the people within it. To the more enlightened, influence is seen as HOW power is used to control the environment. A seemingly small yet significant difference.
Influence is something you can attain while having little power, however, I don’t see the inverse to be true. One can become highly influential through a network, success, or simply by effectively listening and communicating, thereby attaining power that can be used for more significant and results-driven change.
When it comes to organizational power, following Bertram Raven’s “Basis of Social Power” there are 5 basis of power, all of which are influential, but at greatly disparate levels. Simply put, not all power is created equal, and only certain types of power creates the influence required to drive meaningful organizational change.

    Power that drives short term behavior and little significant influence

  • Reward: Power founded in the ability to provide someone with a monetary reward or other reward of some kind. (Incentive)
  • Coercive: Power founded in the ability to take away something important to a person. (fear)
  • Legitimate: Power founded in Job Title or your org chart location. (Combination of Fear and Incentive)
    Power that drives long term change and lasting influence

  • Knowledge: Power founded in your knowledge of a subject or subjects that makes you a resource. (Value Add, Expert)
  • Referent: Power founded in your accomplishment, integrity, and experience. (Respect and Admiration)

The first three tie to shorter term performance and/or motivation. Incentive and fear will drive people to perform, but often it is for a short period of time and not always for the right reason. For example, a short term bonus for a quick spike in sales may provide incentive for a sprint of activity and results. However, the concern would remain: is the sales person pulling forward future sales to achieve this goal? Another example may be the fear of being fired as a motivator. This coercive tactic may make someone work harder, but again, it is likely just temporary until they are “off the block.” Bottom line here is that Reward, Coercion, and Title really don’t motivate lasting change and therefore aren’t nearly as meaningful in creating influence.
With regards to Knowledge, a person who is highly knowledgeable in an area or a few areas tends to be quite powerful and, more importantly, highly influential. While such influence may be limited to specific strengths, this knowledge, when properly applied, creates loyalty and tends to drive longer term change for an organization.
No form of power carries more influence than Referent. A person of great experience, often knowledgeable, and known for their high level of integrity and success is going to be more influential within an organization and throughout society. This type of leader can move a mountain with their words and will inspire results with their actions. When you are referent, you have influential power.
The next time an employee asks for power, what is your best response? There are many ways to answer this question, however, the most appropriate is they must find this power themselves. The title, the org chart location, and the ability to reward and coerce probably won’t mean much. If this leader don’t have respect now, and has no influence, no job title in the world will change that.
Sure power can be bestowed, but what is power without influence? Take a look at many failing companies, educational systems, and governments and there you will find your answers.

Are the powerful people in your organization influential or do they simply warm a throne?