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Power: How To Use It Wisely

As A Leader, It Is Key To Know The Types Of Power You Have and The Most Effective Use of It.

By Steve Schumacher

I was with a friend of mine recently, the CEO of a mining company, and we were discussing the use of power as a leader. A key point of our discussion was how important it is to use personal power to gain trust with all employees.

My friend has used personal power for his whole career to build a family atmosphere in his company. When he visits the various plants, employees look forward to seeing him and chatting with him because he talks to them as people and enjoys the relationships he has with them. He is ­the CEO and has the ultimate position power that comes with that office, but he tries to downplay it. He knows that, in a worst-case scenario, he can always pull out the “boss card” but prefers not to.

My friend is a classic example of a leader that has all of the four types of power and knows how and when to use each one – Shadow Power, Expert Power, Position Power and Personal Power.

Shadow Power – this is the type of power that comes from having a higher authority behind you. For a CEO, he has the power of the board of directors, a plant superintendent has the power of the plant Manager behind him, and a union steward has the power of the union contract behind him.

  • DO use Shadow Power when talking to employees about the company mission, vision, values, goals and other high-level issues. It is a powerful tool when you are taking the organization through major change or implementing some new initiatives.
  • DON’T use Shadow Power when you are not confident in what you are saying or where the company stands on an issue. Shadow power is worth less if you don’t have facts in hand.

Expert Power – this is the type of power that comes from having knowledge is a particular field or knowing where to find that expertise. If you came up through the ranks as an engineer, you probably have Expert Power at systems and processes. However, you may not be an IT expert but can find out IT answers. Employees often have a greater amount of Expert Power than the person they report to.

  • DO use Expert Power only when you have true knowledge of the subject. Call upon your knowledge of, or network of, experts in areas you do not have direct knowledge of.
  • DO NOT use Expert Power when you are unsure of your competency in an area. Be cautious when using Expert power with others, it may take their opportunity to learn. Even when you know the answer, you may be thought of as micro-managing if you share your knowledge.

Position Power – This type of power comes with being the boss. You are higher on the food chain than someone else. The organization has given you the title, responsibility and authority to direct others. Vice-presidents have Position Power over directors; plant managers have Position Power over plant superintendents, etc. When people think of power as a leader, this is the one they think of most often.

  • DO use Position Power when you need something done quickly and do not have time to explain. If a political situation has gotten out of hand, this can be useful. If the areas you are accountable for are in jeopardy Position power can be useful.
  • DO NOT use Position Power when you are feeling impatient or on edge. If your values are at odds with those of someone else, don’t use the “boss card”. When you are new to a position or working with an unfamiliar team, Position power can ruin your standing with people. Often staff people use Position power to get things done. That may work in the short term, but can cause antagonistic feelings in the long run.

Personal Power – This power comes from the strong bond between a leader and follower. It is built upon the foundation of trust between the two. Rapport is built by the leader taking time with employees and getting to know them as people first, employees second. This type of power comes from strong interpersonal skills on the part of the leader.

  • DO use Personal Power when there is a strong relationship between you and your employees. It can be a powerful tool when your values align with those of your employees. Personal power is an essential ingredient in building ownership and buy-in when implementing major initiatives.
  • DO NOT use Personal Power there is not a strong relationship between you and your employees. You will come across as phony and insincere. If you try to get “chummy” with employees you will come across as a used car salesperson that no one trusts.

All forms of power should be used in conjunction with each other. It is unlikely that you can use the same mix of power for every situation. The skill of leadership is knowing when to use these powers and when not too. Judgment is key. Like any other skill, using power must be practiced, and you will make mistakes. Don’t be afraid. Learn from these mistakes.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..