“We gain power
Brian Lowery is the Walter
Kenneth Kilpatrick Professor of
Organizational Behavior at
Power doesn’t always have a positive effect,
On the one hand, the powerful feel
action-oriented, are less inhibited, and have
heightened senses of optimism and control.
But they’re also more likely to see people
as tools and to ignore perspectives beyond
“When you put these together, you can
get inappropriate behaviors as a function
of power,” he says. The powerful might
rely on their own sense of morality when
making a decision, but if they’re already
less inhibited and more inclined to think
optimistically, they run the risk of doing
something illegal or dangerous, hurt
negotiations, or harm their reputations.
“What I would strongly suggest is, as
your power grows, you have people to help
you check your own behavior,” Lowery says.
“Don’t rely on yourself as a good person
to check your behavior, because you could
end up missing what’s going on.” Δ
● Legitimate In formal legitimate power,
we have power because we’re the CEO,
for example, and our subordinates do
what we tell them to do. On the informal
side, consider how children have power
over their parents because responsible
parents must feed and take care of them.
● Expert If we are the only engineer
in a new organization, for example, we
wield a lot of power.
● Referent We gain power through fame,
status, and charisma — people like us
and want to follow us.
Reward and coercion are sometimes
inefficient uses of power, Lowery notes.
Law enforcement officers coerce people by
threatening jail, but they can only enforce
that power through surveillance. That
can be time-consuming and costly. And
reward can backfire if goals aren’t aligned.
If you offer more money to an engineer to
encourage her to code faster, for example,
you may get more code, but it may be worse
quality. Her goal — to make more money
— conflicts with your goal — to have more
INCREASING YOUR POWER
An easy way to increase the likelihood that
people will perceive you as powerful is
through dominance moves:
● Look large. When someone seems large
or imposing, they seem more powerful.
Take up more physical space.
● Gaze directly at others, especially while
talking. Avoid tilting your head.
● Use strong hand gestures.
● Furrow your brows.
● Interrupt others.
● When something goes wrong, react with
anger rather than sadness. Anger is seen
as the more powerful emotion.
● Speak loudly.
● Reduce interpersonal distance. Walking
into someone’s personal space is
considered a high-power move.
● Physically connect with lower-powered people in an appropriate way.
Asymmetrical contact — the CEO
patting you on the back, for instance —
seems friendly and inviting, as well as
powerful. This doesn’t work in reverse,
SOURCES OF POWER
Society naturally orders into hierarchy,
Lowery says. Some is pre-established:
We know from a business organizational
chart who’s in charge. But hierarchy
also develops quickly among complete
strangers. How does one person in a group
of strangers influence others? Lowery
cites six sources of power:
● Reward We give people what they want.
● Coercion We use fear to get people to do
what we want them to do.
● Information We earn power when we
know something others don’t.