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November 23, 2015

How to Lead with Positive Power

One of the essentials of leadership involves influence. Effective leaders are able to use influence to bring about changes in the thinking and behavior of others. When it comes down to it, this ability to influence is closely related to the concept of power.

So, how many seconds did it take you to get an icky feeling in your gut after you read the word “power”? Based on what we witness all too often in politics and business, we have a natural tendency to view power as a negative influence in which someone abuses power for personal gain. But power is neutral. It can be used to create changes that are positive or negative.

In fact, the type of power a leader uses has a big effect on what type of change they can bring about. Some types of power are more closely tied to creating positive resonance and motivation within a team and organization, while other types tend to create dissonance and demotivation.

Power can be derived from various sources, including:

Coercion: Those having position or title can use coercion to hold power over others, and influence behavior through reprimand and punishment. Coercive power isn’t oriented towards the needs of others, but is focused on the agenda of the one using it. Coercion relies on fear to create action, and ultimately leads to the disengagement and dissatisfaction of followers.

Relationship: Power based in relationship is derived from mutual trust and understanding. Leaders who wield this type of power make an effort to listen, understand and show empathy to followers. In return, the leader’s judgments are sought out and valued.

Likability: Power that flows from likability is derived from a combination of factors, including how easy it is to work with a leader, and how well they understand the collective values and perspectives of the group they’re leading. Being easy to work with may sound trivial, but those of us who have worked with difficult people know how tough that can be. Leaders who are liked are kind, respectful, positive, thoughtful and diplomatic.

Competence: People hold power to influence others when they possess important skills and knowledge. When leaders are experts in their field, they speak with a loud voice. Their perspectives, opinions and recommendations have an effect on team members.

Leaders who resonate with their followers most often wield power that is derived from relationship, likability and competence. They avoid using coercion. And, of course, leaders who don’t occupy senior-level positions likely cannot rely on coercion anyway.

Here are five actions for staying grounded in positive power thereby creating resonant leadership:

  1. Allow for Autonomy: Leaders who share power by keenly creating space for autonomy, while balancing the need to ensure everyone is rowing in the same direction, strengthen their influence. They provide opportunity for team members to control some of what they do. That creates intrinsic motivation and ownership of their work.
  2. Develop a Shared Vision and Common Goals: When leaders take the time to engage their team in a process of designing shared aspirations, everyone involved has the chance to be heard and for their ideas to be known. This creates relationships of mutual understanding and connection amongst the team, and the leader is seen and respected as a shepherd of a collective vision.
  3. Employ Listening, Empathy, Kindness & Respect: To solidify relationships between leaders and their followers, and leverage the power that can be derived from likability, leaders should listen carefully to what matters to each team member. It’s a gift to genuinely listen to another in a focused way, not splitting your attention or multi-tasking. Combine that with empathy by putting yourself in the shoes of others to see things from their perspective. Add kindness and respect to your communication and interpersonal interactions, and your impact as a leader will continue to grow.
  4. Read the Collective Zeitgeist of the Team: Likable leaders not only create connections with individuals, but they have a sense for the collective thrust, perspective and spirit of the team as a whole. Leaders learn to attune their intuition and ears to hear this subtle sense of the group dynamic and direction. By staying in touch with this, while still leading movement toward common goals, the leader maintains positive power.
  5. Seek Continual Learning & Development: Leaders who are curious and hungry to strengthen their skills and knowledge-base, and who make the time to do so, will build on the power they derive from their expertise. Continual learning enables you to expand sets of skills and insights, which can then be applied to complex real-world situations on a day-to-day basis. That builds further credibility in the eyes of your followers and colleagues.


  • Influence is essential to leadership and is closely tied to the concept of power.
  • A leader’s power can be derived from various sources: Coercion, Relationship, Likability and Competence.
  • Leaders who create positive resonance and motivation within their team utilize actions that fall into the latter three sources of power, and avoid being coercive.
  • The five actions listed above can help leaders ground themselves in power sources that create resonance.

Try This Out:

  • Ask your team members for suggestions to increase their autonomy.
  • Do a check-in on whether the team’s goals and vision are truly shared and reflective of various perspectives and ideas within the group.
  • Take team members individually to lunch and do more listening than talking. Get their perspectives on a number of items and listen for what matters to them. Ask them for their sense of the collective perspectives of the team.
  • Focus on a skill-set that needs strengthening and sign up for a continuing studies course.
  • Work with a coach to improve your communication style and your approach to building relationships.

Interested in coaching or team workshops? Let's chat!

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