How effectively a person can influence others depends partly on their sources of power. We compared the scores for overall influence effectiveness with the strength of ten power sources and determined which sources correlate most strongly with influence effectiveness.
Introduction to the Power Sources
Influence effectiveness depends partly on the strength of your power sources. The more powerful you are, the more effective you are likely to be when you attempt to influence others. Research shows that there are eleven sources of power, divided into two categories and one special source:
- Knowledge–your knowledge and skills
- Expressiveness–your communication skills; how articulate and expressive you are
- Attraction–your attractiveness or charisma; the extent to which you can cause others to like you
- History–the nature and extent of your relationship with the people you wish to influence
- Character–people’s perception of your honesty, integrity, and courage
- Role–your position, title, and responsibilities in your organization
- Resources–your control of valuable resources others need or want
- Information–your access to information, especially private or privileged information
- Network–the breadth and power of your network inside and outside your organization
- Reputation–how you are thought of inside and outside your organizationWill Power–the desire to be more powerful coupled with your willingness to act
- Will Power–the desire to be more powerful coupled with your willingness to act
For a fuller explanation of these power sources, see www.thelementsofpower.com.
In this study, we did not measure the strength of will power. The other ten sources of power are included.
In research conducted by Lore International Institute beginning in 1992 and my continuing research today by, I compared the power source ratings of thousands of people worldwide with their overall influence effectiveness ratings. The data collection was done with self-scoring questionnaires where power source strength and overall influence effectiveness were measured on a 1-5 Likert scale, with 5 being the highest rating.
We compared the average ratings for each of the power sources with the individuals’ overall influence effectiveness ratings and divided the population into those who scored significantly higher on influence effectiveness (one sigma above the mean) and those who scored significantly lower than the mean (again, one sigma). On a normal distribution, these groups would approximate 16.67 percent of the population on each end of the bell curve. So can we say with confidence that the lower group is significantly less influential than the average person and the higher group is significantly more influential than the norm.
We then compared the average power source ratings for each group and noted the gap between those ratings. The results are shown in Table 1 below, and they were surprising. As the table shows, the ratings gaps between the two groups were greater for the all of the personal power sources (except history) than for the organizational power sources. This indicates that the personal power sources are a greater determinant of influence effectiveness than the organizational sources.
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The skill gaps highlight the difference between the most and least influential people and indicate which sources of power can have the biggest impact if you strengthen them.
It’s not surprising that knowledge power shows one of the largest gaps between the power source ratings of the most and least influential people. Very knowledgeable and skilled people have greater credibility and prestige. They are more likely to be persuade using logic and facts and by putting together arguments and presentations that are less likely to be refuted because they are based on verifiable information. As Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” We tend to trust highly knowledgeable people more than people who don’t have a good grasp of the facts and aren’t skillful in areas we respect.
It is surprising, however, that the power gap for expressiveness is so high, even slightly higher than knowledge power. Expressiveness is your ability to communicate, to articulate your ideas clearly and forcefully, to hold an audience and convince them through the power of speech. Compared to the least influential people, the most influential people are gifted communicators, which shows how critical your communication skills are. So if you want to increase your influence, an area to pay close attention to is your communication skill, and this is especially true if your influence effectiveness falls on the lower half of the bell curve.
Reputation is the sole organizational power source that has a gap in the top five, but its effect is cumulative, by and large, and depends on how others perceive you. Reputations are built over time and generally reflect a pattern of good works and good behavior as others perceive them. It’s difficult to build a strong reputation overnight, although it’s easy to lose that reputation quickly if unfavorable information surfaces, such as Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace when allegations of sexual misconduct became public. The size of the gap between the most and least influential people indicates how powerful a good reputation is (it makes you significantly more influential) and how damaging a low reputation can be.
Attraction power is a measure of likability, on the one hand, and temperament, on the other. People with high attractiveness power tend to be interpersonally skilled, to be able to make friends easily, and to have pleasing temperaments. People like to be around them and feel comfortable in their presence. They might also be physically attractive, although attraction power depends as much on personality and warmth as much or more than physical attraction. We each have a limited capacity to increase our physical charm, although we can dress nicely and take care of ourselves and attend to our appearance, but we can learn to treat people well and be pleasant to work with and be around. In my experience, people with low attraction power scores were generally difficult to work with and less pleasant to spend time with.
It is notable that the three power sources with the smallest gap between those scoring highest and lowest in influence effectiveness were organizational power sources: your role in the organization, your access to important information, and your control of resources. It is generally assumed that people with the key roles in organizations (the CEO or director, the general managers or vice presidents, and so on) will be more influential because of the power that comes with their roles—and to some extent this is true. However, these organizational power sources were less differentiating than we might assume. You can be highly influential even if you don’t have a senior role, have access to special information, or control vast resources.
I haven’t mentioned will power in this report because will power was not measured in this survey. However, other research shows that will power is extraordinarily important in influence effectiveness. In fact, it can be the single most important determinant of influence.
As this research shows, influence effectiveness is more a function of how knowledgeable you are, how well you communicate, how you present yourself, and trustworthy you are, and how highly you are thought of by others inside and outside your organization. If you want to become more influential, focus on those areas.
For more information, see The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence (AMACOM Books, 2011) and Elements of Influence: The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead (AMACOM Books, 2011).