For my blog this week, I would like to discuss observations I made within my organization that tie to this week’s lesson material around power and influence. First, I begin with a brief overview around what power and influence are and how they differ. I will then discuss different sources of power and how I have seen them used within my financial organization. Next, I will cover the five bases of power and provide examples of each of them that I see within my organization. I will also touch briefly on the need for power and how it is similar to narcissism. Finally, I will outline the nine influence tactics and how some of them directly into the five bases of power. Throughout the blog, I will provide examples that I have witnessed throughout my career along with my own personal insights.
To get the most of this blog, we need to understand the definitions of both power and influence. Power has two acceptable definitions. It is the capacity to produce effects on others (House, 1984 as cited in PSU, WC. L. 7, p.2, 2020), or the potential to influence others (Bass, 1990 as cited in PSU, WC. L. 7, p.2, 2020). Three main facets make up power which are the leader, the follower, and the situation. If we remember last week’s lesson, they are the same three factors that come into play for the path-goal theory. Influence is often incorrectly assumed to be the same thing as power which is not the case. Influence is the change that occurs in attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors after experiencing influencing behaviors (PSU, WC. L. 7, p.2, 2020). In short, power enables someone to cause change and influence is the amount of change that occurs.
Sources of power can come in many different forms. A road block in a highway work area is a good example. The roadblock is a source of power for the construction workers that gives them ability to stop traffic due to things like safety concerns. Other sources from our commentary (PSU, WC. L. 7, p.3, 2020) include office furniture, diplomas hanging on walls, and clothing. Working in a office in downtown Pittsburgh, I see examples of all three of these daily. In conference rooms, we have long rectangular tables. It’s typical for teams to begin gathering and always seats at the end of the table open. These spots are almost universally recognized as the seats of power. Though there are no formal policies or procedures, I have witnessed this behavior as far south as Miami, FL and as far west as Kalamazoo, MI. It is also standard for managers at a director level or higher to have round tables in their offices. These are used for informal discussions and help reduce the intimidation sitting across the desk of someone may cause. Diplomas are often hung on the walls as well since they help legitimize the manager’s worth. They serve as certified proof that certain knowledge requirements have been met. I will say, at least in my office building, this practice seems to be on the decline. Finally, and this is something everyone sees daily, is how clothing can affect one’s power. It is a requirement that managers on my floor must wear and travel in suits. Non-managers, like myself, have to wear business casual clothes. It’s very clear at a glance who holds positions of power.
Researchers (French and Raven, 1959 as cited in Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 1993) identified five bases of power by which it is possible to influence others. The first one is expert power and is the power of having knowledge. A good example of this is when someone from the technology department is contacted to help fix connectivity issues within the office. In this case, the person fixing the issue will probably have much more expert power than leaders. The second one is referent power which is the potential influence caused by the relationship between the leader and follower. A good example of this would be the relationship I have with my manager. I appreciate her and feel like she is always looking out for my best interests. As a result, I am anxious to provide good results to her when I am assigned projects. A good way to build referent power would be to use supportive leadership behaviors as outlined in the path-goal theory. The third one is legitimate power and is referring to the position held within the organization. In my current process improvement role, I deal with many high-level leaders within the organization. I specifically asked repeatedly to be promoted to a vice president because issues that I bubbled up were not getting the same attention as ones other VP’s on my team were. Keep in mind that this is speculation, but I can say that once I did get promoted, it was much easier to get responses and organize group discussions.
The fourth base of power is centered around rewards and is the ability to influence others by using them. I know we haven’t discussed this in our class yet, but contingent rewards are an example I have seen used frequently in my area. According to Northouse (2016), a contingent reward is used like “…an exchange process between leaders and followers in which effort by the followers is exchanged for specified rewards” (p. 171). In my office, there is a bonus structure set up for telephone agents. If they meet certain criteria, they are rewarded with additional pay which is an example of a contingent reward. The fifth and final base of power is coercive power and is essentially the opposite of reward power. This would be the administration of punishment or removal of rewards. Using the same example, if the call center agents do not take enough phone calls, or have too many errors, they would not be eligible for bonus pay. In addition, if they performed very poorly, they are placed on corrective action which can lead to termination of employment. Using the examples I provided should give you a good understanding of the five bases of power. Another important note on this topic is that effective leaders should use all of their sources of power and be open to being influenced by their followers (PSU, WC, L.7, 2020).
To achieve power can be a motivator in, and of, itself. One researcher called this motivation ‘the need for power’ and individuals who have a high need for power drive a psychological satisfaction from influencing others (McClelland, 1975, as cited in Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 1993). With this need for power comes two very different ways of expressing it. The first called personalized power is somewhat selfish and lacks control. The second is called socialized power and it used to achieve higher goals for others including organizations. This need for power is similar to narcissism that is described in our psychodynamic approach lesson. Narcissistic behaviors “…range from a normal self-interest to a pathological self-absorption” (Freud, 1914/1957 as cited in Northouse, 2016). They are similar because both power and narcissistic behaviors can be self-serving which is associated with poor leadership. They can also both be used by a good leader to serve higher goals that help others and the organization as a whole. Understanding this will help leaders use their influence to guide followers in a positive way.
We now understand that power is used to influence followers but we have not reviewed how this occurs. Yukl, Lepsinger, & Lucia (1992, as cited in PSU, WC. L. 7, p.6, 2020) outline nine types of influence tactics leaders often use. First, rational persuasion is when logical arguments are utilized to influence others. A good example would be showing statistics to get a process improvement project green lit. Second, inspirational appeals arouse enthusiasm or emotion. Referent power may make this easier since a relationship with their followers would enhance the leader’s ability to understand what would elicit arousal or emotional responses. Consultation is the third type of influence tactic mentioned which is when leaders ask followers to be involved with the creation of something (e.g. a project, a design, etc.). From my own experience this makes sense because I notice that people often take pride in what they accomplish. Having a team weigh in on a new system will improve the changes of a successful transition because of the feeling of involvement and ownership. Consultation also ties into the participative path-goal leadership behavior and would be suitable for followers who have a need for clarity or control (Northouse, p. 121, 2016). The fourth type is ingratiation which is what I like to call buttering someone up. The thought process is to get a person in a good mood before trying to convince them to do something.
The fifth type is personal appeals which is asking another to do a favor out of friendship. This influence type is another one tied closely to the referent since a leader would be calling in a favor because of friendship. Exchange is the sixth influence type and is also an effective way to get things done. Think of a good old-fashioned barn raising where whole communities would get together to help build a barn in a single weekend. If neighbors helped you build a barn, you would probably be inclined to help them if the need ever arose. Coalition tactics is number seven and simply recruiting others to your cause. There is something to be said about strength in numbers. However, this tactic can also be used to call in others with more influence than yourself. For example, if someone is not responding to action items, you could ask the project team to see if they could try to get results. This would be a form of a pressure tactic, the eighth one on the list, where persistent reminders are being sent. If that doesn’t work, you could ask a senior manager or COO to force a response which would be a legitimizing tactic. This is the final tactic and is when authority can be used to obtain results. As you can see with this example, these tactics can be used singularly or together to achieve influence as needed.
In short, power and influence can be very complex topics when looking them from different angles. Even if you are not aware, things like the car you drive and the way you dress can be visual symbols of power. It’s also important to note that the need for power, when unrestrained, can be a very negative attribute. This is especially true with personalized power since it borders on narcissistic tendencies. I have found socialized power to be personally rewarding and very effective because it’s used for the good of others or the organization. It also helps build strong relationships that last years. The five bases of power give leaders the ability to change others and influence tactics are behaviors that a leader can use to change attitudes. Good leaders should acknowledge that combinations of power types and influence behaviors will produce the best results and that the interests of others should be kept in mind when applying them.
Hughes, Richard L & Ginnett, Robert C & Curphy, Gordon J (1993). Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience. Irwin, Homewood, IL.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2020). PSYCH 281 Lesson 7: Power and Influence. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2040131/modules/items/28001757
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 7th Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.