5 Ways to Develop Personal Power That Earns Positional Power

Every intro undergrad business management course covers Positional and Personal Power. Did you skip class that day to play frisbee in the quad? Here’s a quick recap –

  • Positional Power is the influence you’ve earned via your title. You have positional power as a direct supervisor or by being a leader at your company.
  • Personal Power is the influence you’ve earned through your interpersonal skills. Unlike positional power, personal power is not contained to top-down relationships but can influence in any direction.

Oodles of blogs have been written about Personal and Positional Power. Most say that leaders should use their Personal Power to motivate their teams instead of relying on Positional Power. In a nutshell, many believe that Personal Power is better than Positional Power.

However, you can’t earn Positional Power without developing Personal Power.

How did your boss become a boss? How does your work frenemy keep getting promoted? Yes, those people have Positional Power now, but likely they’ve earned Positional Power that matches their level of Personal Power. Note: this isn’t always the case, but it’s a good rule of thumb. Personal Power is a skill. Positional Power is a status.

In today’s healthy economy, workers have more choice about where they work and who they work for. If a boss wields only Positional Power, they are likely to lose great employees to another company. (That’s not to say that a supervisor can’t wield Positional Power, they are the boss, after all!) A leader who does not maximize their Personal Power skills will soon lose their Positional Power. Positional Power is not absolute power.

So whether you’re in a leadership position and wanting to maximize your effectiveness, or you’re looking to earn Positional Power, developing good Personal Power skills can help your reach that goal.

5 Ways to Develop Personal Power That Earns Positional Power

  1. Solicit feedback. If there’s something you could be doing to be more effective, you should want to do that thing. And, if your colleagues know you take feedback seriously, they will give you honest and thoughtful feedback to help you grow. The worst case scenario for someone trying to develop Personal Power is not that you are doing something wrong (everyone can always do better); it’s that you’re doing something wrong and no one cares to tell you.
  2. Let your “yes” be “yes.” No matter the amount of things you say yes to (some people have better boundaries than others), the most important part is that you follow through. People trust people who do what they say they will do. As an example, I recently was promoted and in the announcement email from my boss he wrote, “…in two years’ time she has never failed to give me a weekly project update report!” This is such a small thing. Each Friday I sent my boss an email that I honestly didn’t know he read. But it goes to show if you’re faithful in the little things, you can be trusted in the big things.
  3. Ask for favors with frugality. I like to think of Positional Power as a piggy bank. When I follow through or achieve goals or am a good team mate, I earn Positional Power pennies. And when I ask for favors, I spend some of those pennies. Often before I ask for a favor (I’m defining favor as something outside of a person’s normal job description), I consider how much Positional Power that favor will cost and if I have enough invested into that relationship to “buy” the favor. Please don’t take this so far as to keep a favor P&L statement, but this metaphor does help those of us who are task oriented (raises hand proudly) to spend time investing in relationships, which leads us to…
  4. Invest in relationships. Have a mentor. Be a mentor. Find a work wife. Learn your teammates’ hobbies and interests. Remember that at the end of the day you are all on the same team. Since you are going to work with them again tomorrow, how should you treat them today? An example: I once had a coworker who had a reputation for missing deadlines. I knew I was going to interact with this person long term, so instead of allowing a me vs. him mentality, I made it a point to stop by his desk and talk with him about his favorite hobby. I asked follow up questions each time I saw him and genuinely listened. By the time I left that position, when I needed something in a crunch he always delivered. That’s Personal Power.
  5. Lean into your personality. At a job early in my career, everyone in my department took a personality test so we could learn more about ourselves and how to interact with our colleagues. My test results were deep, deep, into one personality type. Older coworkers jested that I would “mellow out” once I had more work experience. The opposite has proven true. I have leaned into my personality traits – learning over time how maximize the best parts. I know who I am and how I interact, both good and bad. This self-awareness has helped me to build my Personal Power in a genuine way.