The Eagle Blog

Earning the Power of Your Position

Kit Grant’s latest email was on the subject of power. I have copied it below, but basically Kit talks about two different types of power … position power and personal power.

I like to think of them as position power and earned power. There are lots of examples, and most of us have first hand experience, of people who are promoted to a position and the “power” goes to their head. We have probably also experienced the people who have been promoted to a position and their “subordinates” have taken the opportunity to undermine them, or they themselves have not demonstrated the confidence to take on the new role with “authority”.

Power is a funny thing!

People can gain power because of their knowledge … they earn respect from those around them because it is recognized that they “know what they are doing”. It is their competence that is respected and it gives them a certain amount of power.

People can gain power because they are bullies. Those around them can be intimidated and give them more respect than they deserve.

People can gain power through the act of leadership, rather than through their position. They adopt a leadership mentality, and rise above their colleagues because they “take charge”, provide good guidance, bring value their colleagues etc.

People can gain power because they are in the right place at the right time.

People can gain power because others “think” they have the support of management etc.

When I was in the Royal Navy the common “thinking” amongst the ranks was that the officers held the rank, but it was the Chief Petty Officers who really “ran things”! The CPOs had the respect of everyone because they had worked their way through the ranks to their position … that could not always be said of the officers, unless you were talking about senior officers!

My experience throughout my career is that power is something that can be gained in many ways, but the only way to retain “power” is through competence, leadership and knowledge. I would also suggest that power is a word with negative connotations but really we are talking about being a leader, about being someone who garners respect.

Here is what Kit Grant has to say about Power.

“Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t. ” … Margaret Thatcher.

There are two basic types of power: Position Power and Personal Power.

Position Power is power you have because of a position you happen to occupy. The biggest problem with this type of power is that because in most cases it was given to you, it can also be taken away. In order for it to work at all, everyone involved must acknowledge the “position” itself does have some inherent power. While it’s usually easy to see, it may not be universally recognized nor respected.
Personal Power is power you have with another person or people by virtue of your relationship with them. As such, it is much more difficult for someone else to take away this power from you.
It’s been said that this could be a key difference between management and leadership. Management is usually based on Position Power while leadership is more about Personal Power. You don’t have to agree with this belief but it’s usually always a good idea to work on building your Personal Power with as many people as possible.

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