POWER AND INFLUENCE
The measure of a man is what he does with power.
Power is not a new phenomenon. It forms the foundations of government, sociology, psychology, history, religion, and the many disciplines that study how people live and work together, influencing each other. It can be intriguing, because power can be surprisingly complex. It can be enticing, because power can be seductive. But it can also inspire and uplift and exalt, because power can be used to help people accomplish marvelous things.
What feelings do you have when you think about power? To some, power means control. To be powerful may feel heady, exhilarating, exciting. Some feel strong with it and impotent without it; invincible with it and vulnerable without it; comfortable with it or scared by it. Some feel that to have power is bad, that power itself is bad. Didn't Lord Acton insightfully observe that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely? Others feel it is desirable or even essential for successful living. But power is not really good or bad; it is neutral. Power itself is not negative or positive, although our feelings about it may be. Power is the potential to influence others for good or evil, to be a blessing or a scourge. Like nuclear energy, it can provide the electricity to light a city, or it can fuel the bomb that destroys it.
You might not think of it as such, but power pervades every aspect of your life. You wield it and are subject to it. This is because we are all interconnected. We live together, work together, shop together, worship together, and play together. In all these settings, we are with other people whose feelings, views, desires, goals, and values may be different from ours. When we come together, it is natural that we influence and are influenced by each other. Power is our ability to influence one another.
WHO IS POWERFUL?
So who among us is powerful? How do we define power between individuals? If you're like most people, you know power when you see it, but you can't really define it. We seem to have an innate ability to measure power in our fellow man. An exercise I often perform with organizations illustrates this point. I've gone into companies and other groups with this request, "Here's a personnel roster -- rank these people in terms of their power." With no more than this single instruction, people have no difficulty completing the task. Although there is some disagreement about the ranking of those in the middle, most people readily agree on who really has power. In fact, what I often find is that everyone agrees who's at the top and bottom of the list. People seem to sense who is powerful. I find this agreement whether I am asking about power at work, power in politics, power in the community, or power in families -- wherever people are together.
A group of automotive engineers testing the horsepower of an engine would be expected to concur on how powerful the engine is. Since we don't have physical instruments for measuring interpersonal power, what is it that causes this agreement when people are asked to rank the more powerful and less powerful people they associate with? I believe it is our perceptions, based on our experiences -- we feel it. When I ask people about those they know who they consider to be powerful, they often explain the source of their power in terms of an instance in which the powerful person played a significant role. This frequently includes some reference to the kind of relationships the powerful person has. For example, one might say, "Enrico is so powerful -- he gets anything he wants because people are afraid of him." Or, "Suzanne is pretty powerful -- she has what others want, and the only way they can get it is to go through her." Or, "I'd say that Chris has power with other people and they choose to follow him because they trust him -- they believe in what he is trying to accomplish."
Reflect on your own experience. Do you know a powerful person? This might be someone you have worked with, someone you have lived with, or some historical or current public figure you have read about. However you define power, this person has it. What makes others choose to follow this person?
THREE PATHS TO POWER
There are three options you should consider. First, is it because they are afraid not to? Perhaps this person has the capacity, authority, or ability to intimidate or bully people, to do something unpleasant or uncomfortable to other people. Is this person powerful because they can hurt others in some way, or embarrass them, humiliate them, impose sanctions against them, fire them, or take something away from them? If they are afraid that this powerful person can do something they don't like, others might comply just to avoid the problem. With fear as a source of this person's power, others might go along to get along.
Consider a second option. This person might be influential with others because of what they can do for them. This person has the capacity to do something that other people want. For example, they might offer one of the following: "I will pay you if you'll do what I want. I have something to exchange for your time and effort. I can give you information. I can give you opportunity. I can give you resources. I can give you power. I've got something you want, you've got something I want. Let's make a deal." This person has power because they can provide things that other people want, in order to get what they want in return. This is different from the first kind of power. There is no threat or force involved. Ask yourself, Is this second option the reason why people choose to follow the individual that I was thinking about? Is there something valuable they offer to do for them in exchange?
A third option represents an entirely different approach and a different kind of power. This category suggests that the person you believe is powerful is someone others believe in, someone they honor, someone they respect. They comply with this person's wishes because they want what she wants. Whether she is there or checking up on them or paying them does not matter. She believes in them and they believe in her. As a consequence, people willingly and wholeheartedly give themselves to what she asks of them. This person has power with others, not over them.
It may seem artificial to divide your analysis this way. Perhaps the reasons people choose to follow the person you are thinking about fall into more than one category. Or perhaps the reasons people choose for following or listening or paying attention vary over time. The important thing is that you think about a real person and the possible reasons why they are powerful, why others choose to follow them.
WHEN ARE YOU POWERFUL?
Now consider a different situation. We all recognize power in others, but are you prepared to recognize it in yourself? Think about a situation in which you were the powerful person, where your influence was significant with a group of people during the past year in your personal life or your professional life. Whether formally or informally, you were recognized as the leader -- they chose to follow you.
Recall a time in your life when you felt particularly powerful. Maybe you made a brilliant presentation or closed a major deal. Maybe you got a group of Boy Scouts to behave on a camping trip, solved a family dispute, or talked your way out of a potential problem. Maybe you were initiating a new activity or product, installing a new system at work, collecting money for a worthy cause in your own neighborhood, changing a program or policy at your children's school, or working to accomplish something for your community.
Think of a specific setting, and a specific group of people that you influenced. In relation to that group, particular project, or endeavor, why did they choose to follow you? Why did they listen to you? Why were you influential with them? Consider the same three options for this analysis as you did for the person you recalled earlier.
Which of the three types of power was most characteristic of you in the situation you recalled? It is possible that there was some combination. There seems to be a continuum of power, from feeling that we can do anything, to compromising, to demanding, to feeling that there is nothing we can do. But it is also likely that one of the three dominates the others in your interpersonal dealings, whether at work or at home. When you ask yourself these questions, you might realize that the way you handled a particular situation was not the only way available to you. In some instances, you might explore your options and move from one type of power to the next. Perhaps you use love and kindness, but when that falls short, you resort to bargaining. If bargaining fails, you might be reduced to threats. Maybe you even give up.
What parent hasn't experienced this cycle with a child? A friend told me of such an instance that occurred when she was toilet training her son. Her first attempts at persuasion entailed kindness and understanding. She explained how proud she and his father would be if he managed to fill the toilet rather than his diaper. He refused to listen. In a second futile attempt, she explained to him how the earth would move and the angels would sing if he could only achieve this goal. All the child could say was, "No, no, no."
She thought his smug two-year-old grin of self-amusement and satisfaction would drive her to the brink, but she maintained her composure. "How about you go on the potty, and I'll give you three marshmallows!" His response was laughable. "I don't want to go on the potty. Give me some marshmallows!" His demands continued for a matter of minutes, drowning out her pleas, and she finally broke. "All right, mister. You go on the potty or I'm going to lock you in your room and you'll never have another marshmallow as long as you live." Needless to say, this approach failed as dismally as had the first two, and the child ended up running into the bedroom, where he screamed, with the door closed.
Though many of the situations we face may seem more important at the time than a confrontation with a temperamental two-year-old, we can learn some valuable lessons from this woman's experience. First, we always have a choice. Second, crisis plus time equals humor. It may be funny to look at this situation from a distance of miles and years. Most of us manage to arrive at adulthood having been potty trained somewhere along the way. But at the time, the confrontation between what we want and what another person wants can feel pretty intense.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT POWER?
If you feel that you could have more influence with others, that you could be more effective, whether it be with a child or a boss, you are not alone. Here are some revealing comments from participants in a public seminar I recently conducted. I asked the question "How do you feel about the power and influence you have with the people in your life?"
A career executive with two preschoolers at home agonizes, "I don't feel like I am raising my own children. My influence with them is minimal. I try, and we have the best help we can get, but my kids don't seem to want to do anything I want them to do."
A manager in a small company protests, "All these new hires have such high expectations of us, but they are unwilling to commit, unwilling to learn, unwilling to get on board. They don't seem interested in doing the job that has to be done. In the old days, it was easy -- 'No work, no job.' But now there are threats of litigation. Everybody has more rights than we do, yet we are somehow supposed to achieve quality, continuous improvement, and reduced costs. What can I do?"
Each of the comments you just read describes a dilemma. The individual is stuck and feels they do not have the power and influence they want. Although their concerns are legitimate, their beliefs are preventing them from seeing a way out.
THERE IS ALWAYS A PATH TO POWER
No matter how frustrated you may feel, there is always a way out. In every situation that arises, we choose to be powerful or powerless. It may not always feel like it, but it is a choice. And there are consequences for these choices in terms of the results that we get, and the subsequent increase or decrease in our power and influence. If we choose powerlessness, it is often because we doubt there is any other option. Powerless choices can lead to lose/win relationships, irresponsibility, stagnation, immobility, and despair. In this book I will show you that powerlessness need not be a part of your life. Even those among us who seem to have no power can become very powerful.
Based on interviews and my own research, I've characterized what I call the power process, which describes the dynamic relationship between people as they attempt to influence each other.
IT ALL STARTS WITH YOU
The power process starts with you. From my perspective, when I look at power and the choices that people make, it seems like it all starts with you. When I say you, I'm thinking about you in some very specific ways -- your skills, your future, your past, and your character. When you encounter a new situation, you've got a certain skill set. You may have sought out that situation or it may have come to you unsolicited. The skills that you have enable you to do the job. Your skills are the things that you can do right now in the present.
In addition to the skills that you have, you have a capacity to develop or acquire new talents and gifts. Your capacity has to do with the skills that you will have in the future. You have a lot of potential, a lot of possibilities within you.
You also have a history. Your history is a record of where you have been and what you have done. You have dealt with people in certain ways, ways that have resulted in various outcomes with them in the past. You may have found that even with new assignments people already have feelings and ideas about you. Perhaps they've heard something about you; your history has preceded you. You may carry that history and its effects with you for a long time. Sometimes our history feels like ankle irons. It keeps us from being effective right now because of something that happened in the past.
Sometimes we have to outlive our history. You might have read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The heroine of the book, Hester Prynne, was caught in adultery and confessed without naming her partner. Beyond her public humiliation and ostracism, as a part of her punishment she had to sew a large letter "A," to represent the word "Adulteress," on all her clothing. She was made to do this so that everyone in the community would know what kind of person she was. Well, she outlived it. She raised her daughter as a single parent. She lived a quiet life as best she could, working for others and giving back to the community in small ways. Because of the service she rendered, the compassionate giving that she came to be known for, little children growing up a decade later in that community asked their parents if the prominent "A" on her clothing stood for "Angel."
In addition to our history, we also have character. Character is what we are. You have an internal set of beliefs, motivations, desires, and principles that are manifested by your behavior. Together they comprise your character. Leadership, power, and influence are about what you are and what you can do, your capabilities and your character. They're both important. But what you are speaks so loudly, the saying goes, others often can't hear what you are saying.
Your character, your present skill, your capacity to develop and acquire new skills in the future, and your history of living all combine to make up what you bring to new situations. Periodically you will find yourself in a situation that requires you, with your present and future capabilities, character, and history, to influence other people to accomplish something. When you come to such a situation and especially when other people are involved, you have a choice. A problem is looming large, an opportunity is on the horizon, and you have a choice. "Problems are opportunities in work clothes," Henry Kaiser said. Perhaps most opportunities come disguised as problems.
WHAT POWER BASE CAN YOU OPERATE FROM?
Whatever the challenge, we have a choice. Will we choose one of the three types of power, or will we choose to be powerless? Powerful or powerless? That is the fundamental choice we make over and over and over again in life. Will we choose to act or be acted upon? If we choose to be powerful, which path to power will get us the results we want most? You might ask yourself, "What power base will I operate from, or will I choose to be powerless?" If other people are involved, you may be a formal or informal leader, or just a member of a group. In any case, you are in a position to determine and select a base to operate from to accomplish your purposes. The wise leader recognizes that a real leadership choice is made when you choose a power base. "Which power base will I operate from?" The more accurate question is, "What power base can I operate from?"
When we doubt our ability to affect others or make things happen the way we want, we back away from situations assuming there is nothing we can do. We choose to be powerless. There are many reasons we may feel this way. We might be ignorant of possibilities and alternatives. We may be frozen emotionally, unable to respond. We might get trapped in our circumstances genuinely believing there is no other way. If, however, we choose to act, even if we are acting in less than optimal ways, we choose to be powerful rather than powerless.
When we are afraid that nothing else will work, or that we won't make the deadline, or that others might not respond, we often resort to coercive power, or the power to do something to someone. We're afraid of failure, so we scare others into cooperating with us. We may threaten them, punch them, punish them, or do anything necessary to achieve immediate compliance.
When we use coercive power, we are able to control others' behavior, but only as long as we force them. If we remove the threat, they no longer need to follow our wishes. Though we might get the immediate result we desire, the long-term result can only be negative. Those we force may become unable to act on their own, and instead wait for direction from us. They may also resent us for our methods and seek to sabotage or undermine our efforts.
Sometimes we move beyond force and use bargaining to get what we want. Utility power is based on what you can do for me and what I can do for you. It is the power to do something for someone. Together we decide what is fair and we make a deal. The deal may be that you pay me to do a job for you, or that I trade you something I have for something I want. Our deal is constantly up for grabs as we check to see what other options we have. Maybe you find someone better qualified to do the job, maybe I decide I no longer need what you have.
I believe that the majority of adult interactions fall into this category. Utility power works. It gets short-term results. The downside is that utility power disappears when you no longer have what I want. As long as I am getting what I want from you, and I think what I have to give in exchange is fair, we have a deal. When it is no longer fair, according to either party, the relationship ends or may revert to coercive power Utility power dissipates. If the scales are tipped, an otherwise honest person might decide to do something against the other person (or company or country) to "even the score." Utility power is centered on independence as each person tends to look out for their own interests.
Principle-centered power is based on honor extended to you from others and by you to others. This leads to influence that lasts over extended periods of time and can even outlive the person from whom it emanates. Principle-centered power leads to the wonderful relationships we experience with close associates, family members, and friends. When people honor each other, there is a trust established that leads to synergy, interdependence, and deep respect. Both parties make decisions and choices based on what is right, what is best, what is valued most highly. There is control with principle-centered power, but it is internal; it is self-control. Principle-centered power encourages ethical behavior because followers feel free to choose based on what they want most, what they want in the long term, rather than what they merely want now.
You can develop principle-centered power in your life. With it you can become more influential than you may have thought possible. In ways that will endure and perhaps extend beyond your lifetime, you can be as powerful and influential in the lives of others as the most important people in your life have been in yours. Good and important things may happen as your influence spreads. But you may be surprised at who needs to change to make this happen, and how these changes occur. It is a puzzle to some people that their influence increases as their honor increases. But it does. Honor is power. It is not appearance or manipulation, clever words or egotistical desires that bring about this change. It is something deeper.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF OTHERS
You can probably think of someone who had this type of power in your own life, someone who had a positive, significant influence on you. I ask participants in my seminars to identify someone like this. I ask them to report who it was, what this person had done, how this person made them feel about themselves, and how they feel about this person today. Here are typical responses:
My first boss treated me in such an honest, respectful, caring way I felt valuable, as if I was making an important contribution. I felt I was worth something, that I was important to the operation of things. He showed me how to do things that I had never done before and acknowledged my efforts and accomplishments. I would have done anything for him.
My mother was always interested and supportive. She gave advice carefully and without judgment. She encouraged my creative endeavors and cared about my well-being. I felt I could do anything I set out to do. She consistently gave me unconditional love -- that was her greatest gift.
My mentor gave me freedom to manage, showed respect for my opinions, encouraged my creativity, and gave me opportunities. She made me feel positive about myself, more confident. I ended up feeling that I made major contributions to our company's success. I had great respect for her integrity. Because of her confidence in me, and her respect for my opinions, I took on more responsibility and she ended up with more time to do the things she wanted to do.
My grandmother loved me. She cared for me, taught me her values, encouraged me, and raised me. I felt cared for. Her willingness, love, and hard work to help me through a very difficult time in my young life was given freely, without question, with no strings attached.
FOOTPRINTS ON THE SANDS OF TIME...
I have file drawers filled with positive, grateful personal comments like these. I am no longer surprised when I hear people describe this incredible power that exists because of how someone treated them at some time in their life. In "A Psalm of Life," the poet Henry Wads-worth Longfellow teaches us, "Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time." These men and women left an influence that could last well beyond their lifetimes and will not be erased or diminished with time.
I want you to believe that you can achieve what you want most by creating principle-centered power with other people. I want you to cultivate the hope that by conducting your life with honor, you can get long-term results that are worth achieving. I have that hope in me. I have shared the principles in this book with thousands of people, with couples and companies, in live seminars, conferences, workshops, and retreats all over the world. And I have learned from those I have taught. I have not mastered these principles -- mastery is a lifelong quest and I am still on the journey. I am learning, as a consequence, that we can do better and be better in our interactions with the people we care about.
The world has many needs, causes, projects, and problems. Our families, our companies, our communities, and our nations need building. People who operate from a base of principle-centered power can make a tremendous positive difference. Today, more than ever, we need to influence with honor.
Copyright © 1997 by Covey Leadership Center, Inc.