By: John Grinnell

It was just a slight roll of the eyes that caused the project to slow and almost derail. The CEO’s inexperienced young son had gotten frustrated in the meeting and had shown signs of displeasure. He had only a low-level position, but had tons of “referent power” borrowed from his mother. Similarly, an executive’s spouse, friends, favored employees, trusted consultants, or administrative assistant needs to aware of their referent power and use it appropriately.

The Referent

Power is the ability to get things done. The referent power the CEO’s son wielded is only one of many forms of organizational power. When used properly it can be a force for positive change, yet when wielded without awareness it is often disruptive and thwarts success.

The Authority

Authority or “position power” is another form of power bestowed by an organization. With position power comes “executive amplitude” (see my article of the same name posted on LinkedIn). Deference to someone in authority is necessary and the higher one is elevated, the more it comes into play. For example, a CEO’s executive amplitude is much more powerful than is a front-line supervisor’s. Therefore, a critical look or a positive comment by the CEO has much more impact than that of a supervisor. Often the newly appointed, as well as less savvy executives, will not realize they have this power and are often baffled when blindsided by their good and trusted people who they assume are telling them the unvarnished truth in a timely manner.

The Expert

“Expert power” is wielded by those highly talented technical, scientific, or administrative people the organization believes it can’t do without. Often treated with too much deference by executives, these savants can cause frustration if they leverage their status as a way to get special consideration or if their off-purpose behavior is excessively excused.

The Politician

They are the ones everyone knows and likes, awesome networkers within the company and sometimes with key clients. Having developed excessive “political power,” they can often control a company as executives become overly concerned with their advocacy and fear their potential for damaging followership.

With power comes responsibility. Those bestowed with organizational power must use it wisely in support of the organization’s mission, its values, and their colleagues’ success.

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