Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Power is the ability to make others do what you would have them to do. According to the famous psychologist Steven Pinker, people naturally strive for dominance and power. People with greater sources of power are better able to lead and influence others than people with fewer and lesser sources of power.
Sources of Power: According to Terry R Bacon in his book “Elements of Power”, Power enjoyed by the groups/organisations and individuals depends upon what people value the most in that particular environment. The Power derived from position or authority could be a significant source of power for some but it can also lead to misuse of power. Knowledge and expertise about a certain subject can put some people in a powerful position as compared to others. Ownership of large reserves of a valuable resource like Oil gives middle eastern countries power to control the prices of oil. For some people associating with powerful people, access to and holding valuable information can be a significant source of power. People like Warren Buffet will have more power and influence on the financial markets as they are well acknowledged and valued by the businesses all over the world because of their wealth, wisdom and success. According to Terry R Bacon, Power of Networking is a substantial source of power for people and organisations. The power is acquired through Social capital of network members and is exchanged through reciprocal respect, favour granting, and collaboration. Some people or groups are more powerful than others but still, people prosper and do well by voluntary exchange of power.
Misuse of Power: Power gets misused sometimes when it’s not free for all or not shared. Its usage can be distorted if one particular mindset prevails in a group or an organisation or if the group is guided by idealism and rigid beliefs, for instance, unfair treatment of women in some countries. It can be misused when people have unearned power either because of their inheritance or social status and not because of their competence. It is often misused if it falls in the hands of some people with little emotional intelligence. Furthermore, it gets worse if the person in power is surrounded and supported by other similar people. In a ideal relationship or a setting, power should be shared. For sharing power, self-worth and autonomy are a prerequisites and an acknowledgment by the most powerful that other people are entitled to express their desires and needs, including needs for respect and reciprocity.
Personal Power: On an individual level, we all have need for other people to listen to us, respect us. Having power means to have a sense of control, to have choices and the ability to influence our environment and others. We all have sources of power within us and we are more powerful in some situations or contexts than others. When we feel empowered, we can manage our emotions well, we believe that we matter and that we think and believe that we can affect outcomes. For example, we feel good and empowered when we are given an opportunity to express ourselves or given a responsible position in a group or a relationship which matters to us. We have a sense of efficacy in our lives, rather than being at the effect of others and circumstances. It’s our innate need to feel powerful and that is why we associate with people who have some sort of power or they make us feel empowered.
Lack of Power: On the other hand, when we feel less powerful or powerless in certain situations or with certain people it could be due to lack of assertiveness, knowledge, expertise, shame, low self-esteem, lack of autonomy, victim-blame mentality. Chronic lack of power can lead to depression, frustration, low productivity, and low performance. For a healthy functioning of a relationship, all the people involved in a relationship should feel well respected and have some control over the interactions. For example, in an organisation, an employee feeling stuck in a position and unable to change his situation might see the management or the system as more powerful than himself which could lead to frustration, anxiety and low productivity.
Relationships, Power & Awareness: As an individual or a team, it can be very helpful if we are aware of our sources of power and how we react to the situations where we feel more or less powerful as compared to others. For example, you might be in a leadership role but you might not feel very powerful when it comes to dealing with your team. To be more aware and mindful of your personal and working relationships, you can make a list of your sources of power and think of the relationships which make you feel in control and powerful and the situations that make you feel less in control or less empowered. Observe yourself in different relationships and your relative power position to the other in the relationship and how it brings changes in your behaviour. It could be with your boss, your colleagues, clients, friends or personal relationships.
This article is about how power is used to influence people. In my next article, I will discuss how different ways of influencing people can become a source of power.