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Become a More Effective Leader by Using Power Authentically Become a More Effective Leader by Using Power Authentically
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Become a More Effective Leader by Using Power Authentically

Jo Eisenhart •  December 10, 2014 | Focus on Women

How do you feel about the use of power?

Women are often uncomfortable with—and conflicted by—the use of power. For many women, power holds a negative connotation because they think of it as having power over someone or something. Yet power is an important component of leadership, and the effective use of power is critical to the success of executives.

As a woman and a leader, I’ve found that to achieve greater success—both in the workplace and in your personal life—women need to better understand power: where it comes from and how to use it in a way that’s authentic to who you are and what you believe.

So where does power come from? I studied the topic for my doctoral dissertation, The Meaning and Use of Power among Female Corporate Leaders. You can read more about my research here. As I interviewed women from Fortune 1000 companies, I concluded that there are five sources of power:

1. Position power. Position power is the assumed authority granted by virtue of a title or role.

2. Expertise and credibility. This source of power comes from having expertise or by demonstrating a track record of delivery, which builds credibility.

3. Relationships. Relationship power comes from developing personal relationships, earning trust and building a reserve of good will.

4. Personal qualities. This source of power comes from personal qualities such as charm, personality and charisma, which can enable you to influence others.

5. Empowering others. This source of power comes from giving power away to others, which can in itself increase your own sense of power.

Which of these are familiar to you? As you interact with people during the course of your day, make yourself aware of how you—and the people around you—use the five sources of power. In my study, for example, many of the women I interviewed had a visceral reaction to the use of position power because they felt it could be perceived as coercive. Personally, I’m most comfortable using power that comes from my expertise and credibility and from the relationships I’ve developed. When I tap into those sources of power, I feel confident about using power to influence others.

Of course, one source of power is not necessarily better than another, but it is important to identify which ones feel genuine to you and then look for ways to use them to better yourself, your family, your career and your company. For example, say you conclude you’re most comfortable with relationship power. This awareness may allow you to better evaluate potential career opportunities; in this case, would you be the right fit for an organization that works largely through position power?

Whether at work or in your personal life, every relationship has a power dynamic: parent-child, doctor-patient, spouse-spouse, boss-employee, friend-friend. Within each of these relationships, you have the ability to use power positively, and the key is to recognize which sources of power feel genuine to you. By harnessing those authentic sources of power, you can become a more effective leader and achieve greater success.

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