13.1 Career Growth: Power Positioning and Power Sources

Learning Objective

  1. Apply power positioning techniques to your career.

Remember our ongoing discussion on emotional intelligence skills and their necessity for career success? Here is how emotional intelligence skills tie into our chapter on career success.

Throughout this book, we have discussed the factors that create good human relations with our work relationships and personal relationships. When you started reading this book, you learned how your personality, attitude, and self-esteem could impact your human relations with other people. We also talked about the following:

With an understanding and practice in all of these areas, we can become successful people in our careers. This is the focus of the chapter—the skills it takes to be productive individuals through positive human relations. The first step is developing an understanding of how we can use power both at work and in our personal life.

Understanding power and power structure in our organizations can assist us in being more successful in our career. PowerRefers to our ability to influence others and convince them to do what we want them to do. refers to our ability to influence others and convince them to do what we want them to do. Power is different than influence, in that influenceThe application of the power we have to get people to do what we want them to do. is the application of the power we have to get people to do what we want them to do. Although it may seem this only applies to managers, we all use power in a variety of ways, both in our personal and professional lives. For example, Abbey may use her power to convince Amy they should have sushi for dinner tonight, but that doesn’t mean that Amy thinks it is the right thing to do. It isn’t until Abbey uses her influence that Amy agrees to eat sushi. Please keep in mind that power is not a negative thing if used in the correct way. Power and influence, ultimately, are what allow things to get done in our organizations.Mind Tools Website. (n.d.). French and Raven’s five forms of power, accessed March 12, 2012, http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_56.htm Whether or not we are leaders in our organization, power can come in many forms. A study by John French and Bertram Raven in 1959 identified the ways leaders can influence others.French, J. R. P., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright & A. Zander (Eds.). Group dynamics. New York: Harper & Row. They include the following:

  1. Reward power. Reward power refers to a person’s ability to present the receiver some type of reward, should they do something in return. For example, a manager may use raises or praise. If John wants to reward his employees, he might use reward power by offering them a bonus if they meet certain sales goals. John, as a parent, may promise dessert if his son finishes his dinner.
  2. Coercive power. Coercive power refers to the power of someone to punish someone should they not do something the person wants them to do. For example, John may say, “If you don’t meet the sales goal, you will have to look for another job.” This type of power is focused on punishment rather than rewards. As a parent, John may tell his son he will be grounded if his son does not do what is asked.
  3. Legitimate power. This type of power refers to the ability to make another feel obligated or responsible. Because John’s title is manager, for example, this gives him the power or the right to make certain decisions. This can be powerful at first, but over time it can become less important if trust does not exist. Have you ever heard your Mom say, “Because I said so,” without further explanation? This is an example of legitimate power. The mother has the power simply because she is the mother.
  4. Expert power. Sometimes people have power because they have a lot of knowledge or are known as experts in a certain area. John, for example, might use expert power by saying, “I know you can meet the sales goal because I was able to meet this same sales goal last year.” Because John is an expert salesperson, his employees respect his abilities and this respect gives him power. If John is using expert power with his son when teaching him to play baseball, he might tell his son about the years of experience he has had playing the sport—therefore, John’s son is motivated to listen to him.
  5. Referent power. Referent power is often referred to as charisma, charm, or appeal. This type of power comes from one person respecting and liking another, so they are willing to do what the leader says. For example, if John’s employees really like and respect him, his source of power is the fact that people want to do what he says. If John is a convincing person with charisma, he may also use his power to convince his friends to go to the movie he wants to see.

Again, we feel it is important to point out there is nothing wrong with utilizing power to make things happen; the concern is when an individual is power-compulsive. Power compulsiveA person’s personality has a lust for power and may use power for personal gain. means the person’s personality has a lust for power and may use it for personal gain. This is the opposite of the power-shyA personality characteristic of someone who prefers not to be in charge of things and is not comfortable using power. personality, who prefers not to be in charge of things and is not comfortable using power. Power-shy individuals may not be positive either, in that at some point, people must be willing to use power to make decisions. Keep in mind, we all use power, no matter what title we hold at work.

Figure 13.1

Managers may use various types of power depending on the person they are trying to influence. This figure shows some of the strategies used for influence.

As mentioned earlier, the idea of “power” often seems negative, but we can use power in an appropriate way when getting ahead in our organizations. This is called power positionThe use of power in an appropriate way when getting ahead in an organization.. Power position comes from the concept of feng shui, where the power position is the physical position in the room for a business meeting. In this position, the person can see all entrances to the room and is seated against a wall. Because of this, they are said to be the center of attention and thus in the power position. Our meaning here refers to your ability to use conscientious techniques that can lead to personal and professional organizational growth; these also happen to be the characteristics needed for career success, and we can tie into emotional intelligence. Techniques that may help increase your power position at work include the following:

  1. Be authentic. Be yourself. Stay true to your values and those things you find important.
  2. Refuse to let people push your buttons. This can result in conflict, which does not increase your position power. Make an effort to try and get along with others.
  3. Develop esteem and confidence. Esteem and confidence will give you the ability to take on difficult tasks, help others, and contribute to the organization.
  4. Be a team player. Do all the things necessary to be part of a team. Get along with and help others. Helping others shows leadership, ability, and good citizenship. It can put you in a position of not only earning the respect of others but also showing your value to the organization.
  5. Be someone that makes others feel good. Make others feel good when they are around you—for example, by being genuinely interested in them.
  6. Develop your communication skills. Work on your written, oral, and nonverbal language skills. Learn to read and understand others’ body language.
  7. Be visible in the workplace. Don’t take credit for others’ work, but do take credit for your own work. Choose high-profile projects that can put you in a position where others see your work.
  8. Don’t complain. Unless you can also provide a solution, don’t offer a complaint!
  9. Be goal oriented and willing to take risks. Focus on goal setting personally and professionally. Show managers and colleagues how you can help them meet goals.
  10. Have positive psychological capital. There are four aspects to positive psychological capitalFour aspects to positive psychological capital include hope, self-efficacy, optimism, and resiliency.: hope, self-efficacy, optimism, and resiliency. Self-efficacy refers to belief in your own abilities while optimism means to have a positive outlook. Resiliency is the ability to make it through difficult circumstances. In a study by the Leadership InstituteLuthans, F., Avolio, B. J., Avey, J. B., & Norman, S. M. (2007). Positive psychological capital: Measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Leadership Institute Faculty Publications. Paper 11. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/leadershipfacpub/11 on psychological capital, there was a clear relationship between positive psychological capital and job performance/job satisfaction—two very important components for good human relations!

The Five Bases of Power

(click to see video)

This somewhat silly (with typos) video shows the types of power.

In addition to the techniques, we can think about position power as a set of behaviors we exhibit on a daily basis. These five behaviors can help us increase our power position at work. We can think about the acronym POWER to remember these behaviors:Dawson, J. (2007–8) What good leaders do. ADI Performance website, accessed March 13, 2012, http://www.adiperformance.com/08/pub_article03.html

Having an understanding of the types of power and how to improve your own power position at work can increase your human relations at work and, therefore, your success—and probably make work more enjoyable, too!

Key Takeaways

  • Power refers to our ability to influence others and convince them on what to do. This is different from influence, which is the application of our power to get people to do what we want them to do. In other words, power is our ability, while influence allows us to move someone to action.
  • Someone who is power-compulsive may lust for power, while someone who is power-shy may try to avoid situations where he or she might have to exert power.
  • Our power position can help us achieve career success. Our power position refers to the use of our own power to get ahead in organizations.
  • Power positioning can be done using a variety of methods, but specific techniques and behaviors can be used to up our power position. For example, the POWER method refers to behaviors we can exhibit to increase our power position. They include positive approach, openness, willingness, employing things like tact and social skills, and remembering our purpose and goals.


  1. In a small group, discuss examples you or your team members have experienced relating to each of the sources of power. The discussion can be examples from past or present work experience, school, or home life. Compile a list and then present to the rest of the class.