Are you in a position to influence others – at work, at home, in your community? Is having influence important to your position or cause (as a manager, parent, or someone with a vision who’s trying to create something better)? Do the ways in which you exert your influence tend to work well; and do you know how to be more influential?

The ability to influence is a wonderful tool that can be strengthened and refined. To do so begins with an understanding of where our power lies – and to what degree it matches the situation. When we understand where our power comes from, we can learn to use it more effectively and in the most appropriate way – thereby improving the breadth and scope of our influence.

Management and psychology textbooks often describe French and Raven’s five distinct types of power: legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent. What do these mean to you – particularly how you can develop and combine them to match your environment and your goals?

Do you have legitimate power – i.e., are you in a position of authority? How strong is your legitimate power? If you’re a high-ranking officer in the military, for example, you might not concern yourself much with the other bases of power. People listen. Period. If you’re the boss at work, how much legitimate influence you have depends on things like the level of authority you actually hold, and what type of people you lead in which type of environment. At home, the rationale “because I’m the mom” may or may not fly depending on many different factors.

Understanding your own leadership preferences and being open to experimentation, assessing your true level of legitimate power, defining clearly the goals you wish to accomplish, and knowing your audience are all critical components of effective leadership. Here are some other things we might think about in regard to the bases of power:

How much rewarding might you need to do to improve motivation or maintain a desired level of behaviour? What types of rewards will work best? (Everyone has different motivators, so the best thing to do is ask). We also know that offering rewards consistently and regularly helps to shape a desired behaviour, and that rewarding intermittently helps to maintain it.

Do you ever engage in a coercive style of leadership when it’s not absolutely necessary (like forcing a child to comply when his safety is at risk, for example)? Forcing others to do things through the use of threats may work sometimes, but it’s also clearly not the socially acceptable thing to do – and it might end up backfiring in the form of disloyalty or revolt.

How could you build a stronger leadership presence by developing your expertise – by sharpening the skills and knowledge important to your area of leadership? And if you lead solely because you’re the expert, could you be mindful to draw upon other sources as well (i.e., making better use of the principles of reward and motivation; developing your ‘soft skills’ to improve your interpersonal attractiveness)?

Developing your ‘soft skills’ and interpersonal effectiveness speaks to the referent base of power (having influence because people like you, or want to be like you). Legitimate power may be inherent in your role; you may understand the principles of reward and motivation; you may be able to take command when needed; and you likely possess some high-level skills and knowledge. But the effectiveness of all of these can be greatly undermined without some attention to referent power.

Granted, we’re not all movie stars, and maybe we don’t all have that level of ‘charisma’ that draws others toward us like a magnet – but there’s always something more we can improve upon. While staying true to ourselves (because no one is attracted to insincerity), could we learn to be even more outgoing, friendlier, and more dynamic in a wider variety of circumstances with a wider range of people?

Author's Bio: 

Chris Hammer, Ph.D. is a certified professional coach and licensed psychologist. He offers leadership and life coaching services, as well as various self-development tools for people who are passionate about reaching higher levels of success and becoming the best they can be.

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