If you’re already a leader, do your people follow you through fear or respect? And if you’re aspiring to lead, how will you get the most out of your team?
Yes we have all worked with, for, been associated to some type of leader who was a wiener in life, but maybe it wasn’t their fault, maybe no one took the time to make them into a real Hot Dog in Safety Leadership!
The power of position, the power to punish, and the power to control information can be risky to wield. They push your team members into a position of weakness and can leave you looking autocratic and out of touch. Your team members will likely not enjoy being lorded over, and may even attempt to undermine you if you use your power simply as a show of strength.
Regardless of your status, job or job title in the office or corporation are you the leader regarding safety and teams? In Health and Safety, French and Raven described five bases of power:
- Legitimate – This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands, and to expect others to be compliant and obedient.
- Reward – This results from one person’s ability to compensate another for compliance.
- Expert – This is based on a person’s high levels of skill and knowledge.
- Referent – This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others’ respect.
- Coercive – This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for noncompliance.
- Informational – This results from a person’s ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something.
By understanding these different forms of power, you can learn to use the positive ones to full effect, while avoiding the negative power bases that managers can instinctively rely on.
The Conscious Competence Ladder helps you do this. In this article, we’ll look at this model, and we’ll highlight how you can use it to learn new skills more effectively.
Understanding the Model
Noel Burch, stated “It helps us understand our thoughts and emotions during the sometimes-dispiriting learning process”.
The model highlights two factors that affect our thinking as we learn a new skill: consciousness (awareness) and skill level (competence).
According to the model, we move through the following levels as we build competence in a new skill:
- Unconsciously unskilled – we don’t know that we don’t have this skill, or that we need to learn it.
- Consciously unskilled – we know that we don’t have this skill.
- Consciously skilled– we know that we have this skill.
- Unconsciously skilled – we don’t know that we have this skill (it just seems easy).
The Bases of Power
Let’s explore French and Raven’s bases of power in two groups – positional and personal.
Positional Power Sources
A president, prime minister or monarch has legitimate power. So does a CEO, a religious minister, or a fire chief. Electoral mandates, social hierarchies, cultural norms, and organizational structure all provide the basis for legitimate power.
This type of power, however, can be unpredictable and unstable. If you lose the title or position, your legitimate power can instantly disappear, because people were influenced by the position you held rather than by you.
Also, the scope of your power is limited to situations that others believe you have a right to control. If a fire chief tells people to stay away from a burning building, for example, they’ll likely listen. But if he tries to make two people act more courteously toward one another, they’ll likely ignore the instruction.
People in power are often able to give out rewards Raises, promotions, desirable assignments, training opportunities, and simple compliments – these are all examples of rewards controlled by people “in power.” If others expect that you’ll reward them for doing what you want, there’s a high probability that they’ll do it.
The problem with this power base is that it may not be as strong as it first seems. Supervisors rarely have complete control over salary increases, managers often can’t control promotions by themselves, and even CEOs need permission from their boards of directors for some actions. Also, when you use up rewards, or when the rewards don’t have enough perceived value, your power weakens.
This source of power is also problematic, and can be abused. What’s more, it can cause dissatisfaction or resentment among the people it’s applied to.
Threats and punishment are common coercive tools. You use coercive power when you imply or threaten that someone will be fired, demoted or denied privileges. While your position may allow you to do this, though, it doesn’t mean that you have the will or the justification to do so. You may sometimes need to punish people as a last resort but if you use coercive power too much, people will leave. (You might also risk being accused of bullying them.)
Having control over information that others need or want puts you in a powerful position. Having access to confidential financial reports, being aware of who’s due to be laid off, and knowing where your team is going for its annual “away day” are all examples of informational power.
In the modern economy, information is a particularly potent form of power. The power derives not from the information itself but from having access to it, and from being in a position to share, withhold, manipulate, distort, or conceal it. With this type of power, you can use information to help others, or as a weapon or a bargaining tool against them.
Personal Power Sources
Relying on these positional forms of power alone can result in a cold, technocratic, impoverished style of leadership. To be a true leader, you need a more robust source of power than a title, an ability to reward or punish, or access to information.
When you have knowledge and skills that enable you to understand a situation, suggest solutions, use solid judgment, and generally outperform others, people will listen to you, trust you, and respect what you say. As a subject matter expert , your ideas will have value, and others will look to you for leadership in that area.
What’s more, you can expand your confidence , decisiveness and reputation for rational thinking into other subjects and issues. This is a good way to build and maintain expert power, and to improve your leadership skills.
You can read more about building expert power, and using it as an effective foundation for leadership.
Referent power comes from one person liking and respecting another, and identifying with her in some way. Celebrities have referent power, which is why they can influence everything from what people buy to which politician they elect. In a workplace, a person with referent power often makes everyone feel good, so he tends to have a lot of influence.
Referent power can be a big responsibility, because you don’t necessarily have to do anything to earn it. So, it can be abused quite easily. Someone who is likeable, but who lacks integrity and honesty, may rise to power – and use that power to hurt and alienate people as well as to gain personal advantage.
Relying on referent power alone is not a good strategy for a leader who wants longevity and respect. When it is combined with expert power, however, it can help you to be very successful.
Be generous with your knowledge, and seek out opportunities to help people to grow.
As others begin to recognize your unique, valuable expertise, they’ll naturally want to tap into it. Equally, you’ll spot opportunities to support them that they may not even be aware of. Your expert power can help to enable co-workers to develop their own skills, so that they can progress in their careers, as you have in yours.
Using your expertise in this way needn’t threaten your position. The more you invest in helping the people around you, the more your professional value will grow and the more powerful your position can become. You can also test your own skills, identify gaps in your knowledge, and continue to learn by growing and engaging with this development network.