The 4 Kinds of Power
They're not what you think
Ted Jenkins was a senior engineer at Intel who had been with the company since its founding. When I was doing interviews at the company years ago for my book The Web of Inclusion, people kept telling me, “you have to talk to Ted.”
I’m glad I did, because he gave me one of those lightbulb moments that forever shifted how I think about power.
When I asked Ted why Intel had a history of getting and using strategic ideas from people at every level, he said it was because the company recognized that four kinds of power always operate in organizations. And understood that being able to draw on all four kinds of power increases an organization’s ability to innovate— and to create a cohesive culture.
The four kinds of power Ted laid out for me are:
The power of position
The power of expertise
The power of personal authority
The power of connections
Most of us are familiar with the power of position, which is determined by our title, our job description, our place in the chain of command– where we stand on the official org chart. But while positional power is substantial, giving us formal control over specific resources and the right to make certain decisions, it is always extrinsic, unrelated to our individual talents or merits. This means that however exalted, our position is always a slot that we are temporarily filling. It preexists our tenure and will endure after we have gone.
The power of expertise is embedded in the skills and knowledge we bring to our jobs and those we develop over time, through training or by daily practice. Because these skills are lodged in our brains and wired into our bodies, they are intrinsic to us in a way that positional power never can be. Whether innate or learned, they are always self-renewing, increasing with use rather than diminishing. And we take this power with us if and when we leave the organization.
The power of connections is vested in our personal relationships. These include the one-to six-degrees-of-separation acquaintances we can call upon when needed. A robust web of such connections operating throughout a company enables resources, ideas and information to flow anywhere they can be useful, creating opportunities for innovation. The power of connections is the reason that high-functioning teams can transform an entire organization: people know how to find skills in unexpected places.
The power of personal authority resides in our ability to inspire trust and respect among people we work with, regardless of the position we hold. Personal authority may be, and often is, wildly disproportionate to positional power: the supply chain clerk who helps identify a new distribution link, the admin who serves as a top executive’s eyes and ears. Having strong personal authority often spurs colleagues to seek out our observations and judgments, which increases their power as well as ours.
Ted Jenkins also noted that, in toxic organizations, leaders tend to view the broad distribution of expertise, connections, and personal authority as a threat to their own positional power rather than a resource they can draw on to make the enterprise stronger. Their reluctance to nurture and honor other kinds of power results in widespread demotivation and a diminished capacity for innovation and growth. Although these weaknesses may take time to become manifest, information and resource logjams are the most typical immediate consequences for organizations that over-privilege positional power.
Ted Jenkins was a man before his time, perhaps even before our time. His ideas are still revolutionary today.
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