To become successful in life, we need to understand and manage power – our internal power, external power, and the sources of power. 

1. Internal power

Most people believe that the only way to become successful in life is to be born into a family of rich parents, or win the lottery, or have friends in high places, or get a corrupt tender deal. To become successful, we do not need any of these external things. Everything we need to succeed is internal, within us. Our greatest power comes from understanding our purpose, hard work, courage, perseverance, an attitude of gratitude and the ability to tolerate pain, take risks, give and love unconditionally. If we can believe in ourselves, we can achieve anything. 

Our internal power comes from our talents, knowledge, values, attitudes, and behaviours. Great leaders understand that power comes through us, but it does not belong to us. They become powerful by giving away their power. Great leaders do not allow power to corrupt them – they use power to develop and not to destroy. 

2. External power

External power is not always straight forward or visible. It is often disguised or hidden in an invisible and intricate web of relationships. There are three layers of relationships through which we can reach any person in the world. Great leaders are great at understanding and managing power and relationships. They do not burn their bridges, and they are great diplomats. Great leaders even use the power of their enemies to achieve their goals.

3. Sources of Power.

In order to manage people and organisations successfully, we need to understand the power and sources of power. Different sources of power require different management strategies and approaches. The following are eight major sources of power:

  • Positional power. This power comes from the position occupied, for example, CEO. The positional power allows leaders to exercise the power of coercion or reward.
  • Expert power. This power comes from special knowledge, experience, education or skill. 
  • Relational power. Source of this power is derived from the relationships with people in power. For example, a PA may derive her power from the relationship with the CEO, or President. 
  • Profession. Source of this power is derived from the profession. For example, being a chartered accountant in an auditing firm, medical doctor in the health department or lawyer in a leading law firm. 
  • Association. This power comes from associations with powerful organisations or individuals. For example, membership of the leading political party, business association, Freemasons, Young Presidents Organisation, or similar. 
  • Spirituality. Source of this power is derived from the moral high ground the person has, or from association with a reputable or leading spiritual or religious group. 
  • Information power. Information is power. This power is derived from having access to information, formally or informally. 
  • Charismatic power. This power is derived from an individual’s personality. Charismatic leaders have heroic qualities, they are great at developing and articulating a great vision, taking risks and roads less travelled, inspiring and mobilising followers, and generating passion, loyalty and commitment. It is important to understand that in many organisations, there are people with charismatic qualities who are not in formal positions of power but have a great influence over others because of the strength of their charisma.

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