Cookie Consent by

Power and Influence

Defining Power and Influence

Power is meaningless without influence. Yet, it is possible to have influence without power. When used in combination, they are capable of bringing about great changes in behaviour. Understanding their nuances will help you become an effective leader and achieve your desired aims.

Power describes the authority an individual possesses. It can be used to demand changes in behaviour or make others do things they might not otherwise do. It is usually the preserve of the few.
Influence is the ability to alter other people’s perceptions of a situation leading to modification of behaviour and the promotion of desired outcomes. It is largely based upon relationships and involves both persuasion and transparency.


In 1959 two social psychologists, French and Raven, described a model for the basis of power. They proposed that power is derived from five distinct bases, with an additional sixth base identified in 1965. Their six bases of power can be separated into those with positional power and those with personal power. It is possible to possess more than one base at any given time. You will find different bases are required depending upon the situation, your role and whom you are trying to influence. The six bases are explored below.

Positional Power

Positional power derives from short term behaviour and holds little significant influence.

Legitimate (Positional) Power

This arises from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands and expect others to be compliant and obedient. They usually have a position of formal authority and status within an organisation.

This form of power is unpredictable and unstable. It is limited to situations in which others believe you have a right to control. Once the position of authority is lost, the power can instantly disappear. They are influenced by the position rather than by you. Holders of legitimate power tend to talk more and interrupt others more frequently.

Reward Power

This arises from the ability of one person to compensate another (provide an incentive) for compliance, including the removal of negative sanctions. It describes the degree to which an individual can provide external motivation.

This form of power weakens as the reward is used up or if the reward is not perceived to hold enough value.

Coercive Power

This arises from the belief that a person can punish others for non-compliance. It includes the use of threats and application of punishment or other forms of sanctions, including the removal of items of value.

This form of power relies on fear and often results in dissatisfaction or resentment.

Informational Power

Arises from the ability of a person to control the distribution of information that others need. Power derives from the ability to share, withhold, manipulate, distort or conceal the information, rather than from the information itself.

This form of power is exceptionally powerful. It often indicates relationships of with other power holders and can also lead to the building of credibility.

Personal Power

Personal power drives long term change and generates lasting influence.

Expert Power

This describes the ability to influence others based on the perception that another person has possession of valuable knowledge, skills or expertise within a certain area making you a valuable resource. They are able to understand a situation, suggest solutions, use solid judgement and outperform others.

This form of power applies to the specific area of expertise, therefore making it a narrow base. It creates loyalty and tends to be highly influential. Individuals can expand their reputation for expertise into other areas, thereby expanding their remit.

Referrent (Network) Power

This is the ability to influence others due to respect, trust, accomplishments, integrity and admiration from others. It is based on personality and interpersonal skills of the power holder. It involves relationships and individuals are usually trusted and display integrity.

This form of power is a large responsibility and may easily be lost. Examples include celebrities.


Influence is the process that drives change and alters the environment for success. The manner in which we influence others varies between individuals. Learning Discovery has identified five different styles that are commonly used. These are explored below. Which group do you belong to?

Individuals commonly display an unconscious preference for a given style, both for persuading others and for being persuaded; this is why you may have noticed more success at persuading certain types of people. If you neglect the remaining four alternatives, your approach to influence individuals receptive to them will be undermined.


You use logic, facts, expert opinions, experience and reasoning to present your ideas and persuade others. This works well with expert power.


You rely on personal confidence, rules, procedures, precedent, policies, law and authority to persuade others. You willingly insist on your ideas, challenge those who disagree and debate or pressure others to see your point of view.


You look for compromises or make concessions and exchanges in order to reach a satisfactory outcome for all parties. You may delay discussion until a better time arises.


You encourage others toward your position by communicating a shared purpose, using inspirational metaphors or stories and showing exciting possibilities.


You influence outcomes by uniting and connecting others. This involves listening, understanding, building coalitions and using personal relationships to get people to agree with your position. This works well with referent (network) power.

Individuals naturally lead with their preferred style and assume it will work for everyone. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true and may actually reduce the likelihood of achieving your desired effect. Understanding influencing styles allows you to pick the style which will work best for your audience and is a more effective approach when influencing others and changing their behaviour in order to impact outcomes.

How to Use Influence and Power

Once you have understood your power base and established your preferred influencing style, practice using the most appropriate influencing styles on a situation specific basis. This will take time and patience, but it is well worth the investment. Begin by reading the definitions of each style and then you can attempt a mixture of the following:

  1. Improve your relations and rapport with your colleagues. Show interest in others, make them feel appreciated and improve your interpersonal connections.
  2. Listen to your colleagues. Help others see the bigger picture, provide them the resources they need to succeed and help them feel heard.
  3. Commit to your team and create visibility. Share your vision of success and guide your team towards a common goal. Show them why they are vital to success and help them maximise opportunities along the way.
  4. Develop expertise. Choose a topic that allows you to offer information, resources or valuable expertise.
  5. Frame issues from a different perspective. Help others see the problems from a different perspective and promote the discovery of alternative solutions and new opportunities.
  6. Give others what they want. Frame your ideas in a way that might seem as a beneficial to them.
  7. Use emotions and storytelling. Engage the emotional side of people and invoke their passions. Communicate clearly.
  8. Enlist colleagues and cultivate allies through collaboration and consultation. Help involve your colleagues by using their advice and incorporating their feedback. Gain commitment for completion of a desired task. Get those who are enthusiastic about your idea to serve as ambassadors. Seek endorsement from those in positions of authority. Build your network.
  9. Create a strategy. Produce an organisational power map and identify the important decision makers related to your issue. Can you influence them? If not, who can you influence that can influence them?

Outcomes of Power and Influence

Different forms of power and influence will yield different effects on how individuals feel. These can broadly fit into three different groups. Choose wisely.


This occurs when individuals agree to the request and actively support it. Commitment requires less monitoring and entails a higher sustained effort over time. This is supported by improved interpersonal relations and a better focus on a shared goal.


This occurs when individuals do not necessarily want to obey, but they do. It results in high productivity for a well-defined task, but without changes to the attitude or mindsets of individuals. It does not unleash the full potential of engagement or creativity.


This is when individuals do not wish to comply with the request and either passively or actively repel the attempt to influence them. It involves the obstruction or sabotage of a leader and includes false compliance (pretending to comply), looking for excuses, attempts to persuade the leader to renounce their idea or asking a higher authority to overrule the leader.

Commitment can be achieved through rational persuasion (using facts, data, logical arguments to convince others that your point of view is the best alternative), inspiration (tap into our values, emotions and beliefs to gain support for a request or course of action) or consultation (ask others for help in directly influencing or planning to influence another person or group).

Compliance can be achieved through coalition (when a group of individuals work together toward a common goal to influence others), personal appeal (when someone helps another person because they like them and were asked to help), ingratiation (make others feel good about themselves often with flattery) or exchange (give-and-take in which someone does something for you, and you do something for them in return).

Resistance is often the result of assertion, coercion or the overbearing use of legitimate power.