Sunday, July 13, 2008


When I ask someone to associate a word with "influence", the common response is "power". Frequently we think of influence as something to which we yield in order to avoid consequences that can be delivered from someone with power. I think this is a negative way of viewing influence, and is chiefly responsible for us being wary of power and people that seek power.

Power is a positive thing; in engineering it is sometimes referred to as "potential". A hand can be used to hurt or to help, but the hand is not evil by itself. The same is true of power. Certainly the absence of power is negative, and we all have more than we think.

In business, there are three kinds of power that are relevant: positional, relational, and personal. Positional power comes from one's level of responsibility in the organization. Relational power deals with how one relates to others - it is their openness, accessibility, and willingness and ability to collaborate. Personal power is found in a person's nature - it is their credibility and authenticity, their expertise, and their general attitude.

These are all things that can be learned and must be nurtured, and they are each associated with deeper foundational skills and techniques. For instance, developing expertise involves knowing how to choose the best skill areas to learn and knowing how to optimize our learning of them. In doing that, we will likely learn how to coach effectively, which is a critical leadership skill. Similarly, in learning collaboration skills, we learn how to approach inter-personal problem solving, which builds from knowledge in critical thinking and relationship management. We must also recognize that the tools and techniques for influencing individuals are different than those used for influencing groups.

The things we sense are wrong in leadership styles are often linked to a dependence on positional power. Influence includes learning how to collaborate with those that possess complementary skills in order to maximize the effectiveness of the organization.

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