How different types of power impact you and others at work – Part 2

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion by Rachel Murray

In our last blog post, we discussed three different types of power that are present in the workplace based on Nicole Lipkin’s book What Keeps Leaders Up at Night. In this follow up post, we’ll be exploring four more types of power, along with some examples of how each may be used.

  • Informational Power: Those with informational power have access to specific information that not everyone has. This information could be anything from salary information to passwords. Certainly those who sit higher up on the workplace “ladder” typically have access to more information, but someone in IT, Legal, or HR might also possess more information than others. Let’s take an example of someone in the legal department. They know that there’s a buyout happening and layoffs are being discussed, and with that knowledge comes power. They could share this information with people who might be affected by this, and risk not only their own careers but could lower morale and worry people unnecessarily. They could use this information to curry favor, or get people to like them more, because they shared this information with them.  Spreading gossip is similar, as it’s used as a way for people to feel connected with someone else and  show that they’re “in the know”. The kind of informational power that’s associated with gossip can be incredibly harmful, causing morale issues, distrust among team members, and more. 
  • Reward Power: Reward power is a type of power that someone has when they’re able to reward others for something. Reward examples include a promotion, a raise, a bonus, etc. You’ll likely see this power dynamic playing out with people managers or anyone giving performance reviews, who offer a reward for good work. Offering rewards can be positive, such as offering stretch assignments to different people on the team, and incentivising good work through promotions, raises, and bonuses. Where things get less productive is when you pit your employees against each other by offering rewards to only a few, based on arbitrary metrics. It’s worth reviewing your rewards systems to ensure that they’re fair and inclusive. An example of something that might not be fair is rewarding someone for clocking in hours in the office vs actual work accomplished. 
  • Referent Power: Referent power comes from personality traits and ‘likeability’. The more likeable one is, the more likely they’ll be able to influence others to get them to do what they want. We see this play out in a variety of ways. One common example of referent power comes in the form of male vs female managers. Many studies have found that women can be penalized (being called “too aggressive”, “overachiever”, “difficult”, etc) when in a leadership role, whereas men are viewed as more likeable (being called “charismatic”, for example). Female leaders have less referent power than their male peers, which can ultimately hurt their effectiveness and credibility. It’s worth noting that there’s a trade-off for women as to whether they’re seen as likable or competent, and it’s also worth noting that we’re generally speaking about white women here.
  • Connection Power: Connection power comes from having a strong network. Someone with a lot of connections to many people will be more influential when it comes to getting things done and being able to move the needle faster or ‘grease the wheels’. Extroverts tend to excel in this type of power, while introverts who don’t naturally prefer to connect with others have a more difficult time here. Remote workers can also suffer from lack of networking when thinking about workplace connections.

Do you see yourself experiencing or witnessing these types of power? Would you do anything differently at work given what we’ve shared with you? We’d love to hear your thoughts!