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Bases of Power: Structural, Personal and Cognitive (Part 1)

Bases of Power: Structural, Personal and Cognitive (Part 1)
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So far, we have defined power. We’ve talked about the benefits of power and we talked about the potential risks, or costs, that come with power. Now it’s time to really dive deep to understand, where does power come from? What are the sources of power? What are the bases of power? How can you build on those sources to create and enhance your own power in your organization, in your team, so that you can effectively influence and lead other people. What I wanna do now is begin to unpack those bases or sources of power. We talked about this a little bit with the quiz that we opened the week with.
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The first set or category of bases or sources of power are what we call the personal bases of power. This is expertise, information, and you recall, what we refer to as referent power. Expertise, you’re the expert on a particular topic and that expertise is valued and maybe even rare. Information, you might not be the expert, again, but you have information that others do not have that is valued or rare. Then a referent. Referent is that charisma, that attraction, that connection that people have with you.
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These three personal bases of power are attributes that others will often defer to or it will increase the likelihood of them complying with a request or a task that you have, that you want other people to accomplish to the extent you’re the expert, you have the information, or you have that referent power. That increases your power, your control over the situation, the people, your ability to influence goes up. Expertise, information, referent power as your three core personal bases of power. Those stand in contrast, and in many cases, compliment, what we refer to as your structural bases of power. We often think of the organizational chart, and who is the boss and who is the subordinate.
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That’s an example of what we call legitimate authority. Legitimate is the structural, who’s the boss, who’s the supervisor, who’s the subordinate? That formal reporting relationship is legitimated by the organizational structure, for example. Reward power, who has the ability to give out rewards for performance? Oftentimes, that is correlated or similar to who is the boss, your legitimate power but sometimes it is different. In many cases, the rewards aren’t just the performance evaluation or the monetary. In many cases, you have the ability to give a reward, a favor, for example, or to fulfill a request to someone. That’s seen as a reward that others do not have, and you are able in that situation to give that reward to another person.
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Assuming that reward is valued, that gives you power in that relationship. Again, remember the power here is relative, contextual, and very much about your relationship relative to the other person or persons. And then last is coercion. This is your ability to punish or in many cases, force someone to take a particular course of action. Again, all of these three legitimate, reward, and coercion are what we refer to as structural bases of power. These are really features of one’s position that grant control over another person’s resources or outcomes. When you think about where power comes from, I want you to be thinking about these two different categories, personal bases of power, structural bases of power.
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Oftentimes, a person has one or more of these bases of power, and that’s what enables them to be influential. So, with that in mind, what I’d like to do is a small assessment of these six bases of power. You’ll remember, I asked you in the beginning, to think about which of these would be most effective for influencing other people. Now I’m gonna have you think about these same six bases of power as an assessment, really assessing individuals in terms of where do they fall. With each of these six bases of power, I’m gonna have you think about two individuals.
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I want you to think about, for each of those individuals, which of these bases, or sources of power, are most important for their influence in your organization or team? The first person I want you to think about is your boss. Now clearly, your boss, relative to you, has legitimate power. This is the formal right to influence. This is your supervisor, you’re the subordinate, you have a direct reporting relationship to that person. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that legitimate power is the most important base or source of power for that person’s influence on you. Reward power, coercive power, legitimate, referent, expert, information. I would like you to take a moment and asses your boss.
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I’m not going to ask you to share your information with your boss but I want you to take a minute and assess your boss. I want you to rank order, which one of these bases of power, which one of the six, is the most important, most effective, most important for that person’s influence on you. Take a minute and complete the assessment with your boss in mind.
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Welcome back. So you’ve assessed your boss along the six bases of power, which base is most important, which base is least important. You might go on the discussion forum and share which base you thought was most important and see if it’s similar to or different from other people’s perspectives or experiences with their bosses. But now, what I want you to do is turn your attention another person and this person’s base of power and that other person is you.
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Now you may not be in a formal position of power, or you may be at the very top of your organization but here I want you to think about, for your own influence in your organization, which of these bases of power is most important for you? Given the people that you work with, given the situation, given the market, given the demands on your organization or your team. Which of these bases of power is gonna be most important and least important for your influence for your leadership in your team or organization, even if that influence is up or across the organization?
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Even if you’re not managing a formal team, you still have to influence up the organization and you still have to influence across the organization. Which of these bases of power would you rank as being most important for you, all the way down to least important for you?
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