I’m The Boss! The Truth Behind Positional Power

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

So you’re the boss now. You’ve worked hard for that promotion and now you’ve got new people working directly under you, hierarchically speaking. How will you use this new power to get your job done?

If you’ve read read my post The Five Sources of a Leader’s Power, and how (and how not) to use them then you will know that Positional Power is one of five powers that a leader can use. Positional power is gained by a person’s rank in their organization. The higher up the organization, the more power you have. Your boss has more power over you, and your boss’s boss has power over you and your boss. Get the picture?

This is a very old system of power investiture. It’s how the armed forces and have worked for centuries, and to this day. Rank defines power.

Positional Power is very useful to a manager. Using Positional Power – a barked instruction – gets things moving without the need to sell the idea, persuade or explain why. In crises or time-sensitive circumstances (such as a major power-failure, fire or stock crash), Positional Power can result in your staff reacting quickly according to your instructions. Like puppets. And this may be exactly what is needed at the time. Positional Power is also useful when managing the unmotivated and uninitiated. Before you can develop willing followers who respond to your personality or expertise, you have to get started with these people somewhere, and it’s your position that they will respond to.

But using Positional Power is rarely a sustainable strategy.

Most people accept that instructions have to be given at times, and followed without question. But most people resent having orders barked at them all the time – no matter who you are and what position you’re in.

When managers become true leaders, they build power bases formed from their personality and expertise. These are Personal Power and Expert Power. This is power given to leaders by their followers, wilfully and generously. You must know someone who has Personal Power – perhaps a colleague who you follow only because you like them and trust them. You probably know someone with Expert Power too – perhaps a teacher/trainer or specialist who you respond to because they’re a guru in your field.

These people have power over you because you put it there, and the more they use it with you, stronger becomes the power you give them.

Whereas with Positional Power, the more you use it, the weaker it becomes. Without the strength of a personal relationship (creating Personal Power) and the respect of expertise (instilling Expert Power) your staff will soon get tired with following your instructions. Your position as an effective boss won’t last long.

People who possess charisma and are likeable, and/or possess valuable knowledge and experience, are more likely to build stronger, more sustainable influence, exhibited as leadership, than those who possess only a badge of office. What’s more, they do so because their followers want them to have it. They don’t have to snatch it like tyrants.

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