Have you ever had the sudden realization that your promotion didn’t magically provide you with the gravitas you need to get people to listen to what you have to say? How about when you know more about your job and even the business than your boss, but you can’t get her to take your advice or even take you seriously? Maybe you’ve been given the responsibility to manage a team, but none of the people report to you.

The list goes on. There are a lot of scenarios where we need to step up and be the leader, but our position doesn’t afford us the power we need to get the job done. But the truth is when it comes to individual leadership, positional power is inferior to personal power. Effective leadership with lasting results comes from strengthening your personal power, evaluating circumstances, and applying the appropriate influence.

1. Strengthen your personal power

There are a few different kinds of power, and we sometimes give positional power too much credit. While there is a place for positional power, it is personal power you need to concentrate on when you want to be a leader with conviction, whether you are in a position of power or not. Positional power is good for an institution and compliance. Personal power gets people committed and lasting results.

Here are four qualities you should exercise (i.e., continuously develop) to strengthen your personal power:

  • Authority
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Courage
  • Engagement

Authority comes with experience and confidence. Know of where you speak and know that you know of where you speak.

Emotional intelligence means being attuned with other people’s emotions, perspectives, and attitudes. Active listening and inquiry are essential here.

Courage means being willing to take risks and be accountable to the results. Risk management and agility are key components and you will need to be resilient

Think of engagement in terms of how much people seem to gravitate to you. Excellent communication skills, charisma, how inquisitive you are about other people, and how present you are in any given situation will determine how engaging you are.

2. Assess the Circumstances

Do your reconnaissance. When you’re trying to lead or gain influence in a group dynamic, figure out what kind of network you are dealing with. Kathleen L. McGinn and Elizabeth Long Lingo at Harvard Business School identify the centrality and density of networks as important factors in how you gain influence. If the network has many connections it may be easier to get through to the entire group by influencing just one actor, but it may be difficult to penetrate that tight-knit team if they are guarded and insular. The opposite may be true of less dense groups.

You will also need to understand the reporting structure (if any) and the overall culture of the group.

Investigate what drives certain individuals. Get to know what their ambitions are and if they are more likely to make decisions based on logic and reason or emotion and intuition.

3. Use the appropriate influence

This is the heart of the matter. You have to understand strategies, principles, and styles of influence. In Developing Management Skills, Whetton and Cameron point to these three influencing strategies:

  • Retribution—Forcing others to do what you want
  • Reason—Showing others that it makes sense for them to do what you want
  • Reciprocity—Helping others to want to do what you want them to do

Here is a good illustration of why personal power is more effective than positional power: Retribution is really the only strategy, if you can call it that, available for positional power. Reason and reciprocity are the domain of personal power.

Understanding which strategies to employee will help you know which principles and styles will be most effective. The chart below will be useful for those of you who are already familiar with principles and styles or who would like to dive deeper into the subject.

Without Positional Power Handout

Bottom line, true leadership takes hard work. It doesn’t just fall into your lap. Don’t envy or strive to find leadership from a promotion or title. Effective and lasting influence is the fruit of personal power.

1 Comment on “When Your Position isn’t Giving You the Power to Lead

  1. Pingback: The Big Problem with Saying “If You Don’t Like It, Leave” – Kresl Consulting

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