“Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

– Margaret Thatcher, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom


Power is the ability to influence the behavior of others. It is interesting to understand and observe the use of power in an organization. In meetings and interactions, it is easy to profile different leaders and what sources of power they impose on their organization and team members. The 7 sources of power is an effective framing that you should reflect on both in your behavior and others.


What are the 7 Sources of Power?

sources of power framework example

Legitimate power

Legitimate power is the power that comes from job titles, positions, and roles. Many organizations are very top-down, where leadership drives peoples’ agendas. While legitimate power can be very effective in aligning strategies and actions, it can also be a balancing act, where you want great ideas to circulate from the frontline. The key to legitimate power is to focus on the what, when, and why of agendas, but let people solve the “how”.


Reward power

Reward power is the power to influence and drive performance through rewards and recognition. Reward power is effective when leaders align the right incentives to the performance they desire. Surprise rewards (e.g., a gift card for a job well done) and simple recognition (e.g., a thank you) are often more impactful than monetary rewards. Give out sincere thank yous and small tokens of appreciation to wield your reward power.


Expert power

Expert power is the most enduring and respected power. We’ve all seen this power when someone really knows what they are doing. Maybe they’ve had previous experience or are a great problem solver, but they are going to go far given their expertise, skills, and knowledge. Mastering the tools in this book will get you a long way in building your expert power.


Referent power

Referent power is the power to influence others using your personality traits, interpersonal skills, and integrity. Referent power is in those people that have a presence about them and a strong track record. They often have people that want to follow them and their leadership.


Connection power

Connection power is the power to connect people and ideas. People with a lot of connection power are often called power brokers. They feed off connecting people and ideas and often create a lot of value in this role.


Information power

Information power is the power to influence through facts and data. Information is the basis of fact-based decision-making and leadership. Analytically strong people typically have positive information power. On the flip side, we’ve all run into a gatekeeper or information hoarder. They seem to thrive off the negative power and control they get for hoarding and keeping information from others.


Coercive power

Coercive power is the power to make someone do something through threats and coercion. “I will take this away if you don’t do this…” It is the most negative use of power and often raises its ugly head in organizations. When you do see coercive power being used, try to understand why someone is using it. Is it for personal gain, fear of failure, or anger? The use of coercive power can be a sign of cultural issues in the organization.


How can I use the 7 sources of power?

Awareness is the first step to using the 7 sources of power. Which of the 7 sources of power do you use? Your leadership? Your team members? Create a little tally and take notes of what you observe.

Once you are aware of what you typically use, build a personal power plan, which is your plan to reduce the negative use and increase the positive use of the 7 Sources of Power.

With your team, you may want to use more reward power, in the form of surprise rewards and recognition programs. With your leadership, you may want to use more expert and information power, in the form of fact-based recommendations and plans. You may want to build on your referent power in meetings, by showing more confidence,  speaking up, and developing more personal relationships. You can improve your connection power, by organizing group lunches and dinners with interesting people. Think through your power plan and put it into practice. You may be surprised at how much easier it becomes to influence your leadership and team members.



To get you going on redefining how you utilize power, download your free and editable Personal PowerPoint Power Plan.


personal power template example




 Learn more about Joe Newsum, the author of all this free content and a McKinsey Alum. I provide a suite of coaching and training services to realize the potential in you, your team, and your business. Learn more about me and my coaching philosophy.
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