A reader’s post got me thinking about power in the workplace. Power, especially positional power, is often misunderstood and frequently misused. There are all sorts of different types of power including:

  • Positional power
  • Expert power
  • Informational power
  • Referent power
  • Connection power
  • Reward power
  • Coercive power

Power per se isn’t the problem because there will always be different levels of power of different sorts between individuals in any type of group. The problem occurs as I see it when power is misused.

In my mind and you may debate me on this, the most legitimate types of power are positional and expert based power. After all, there is a good reason why people in certain positions have power as they are held accountable for results so they should have the power to make whatever decisions they need to make in order to get those results.

Expert power too is important as we need to turn to experts in order to make decisions outside our realm of knowledge.

One problem I see frequently is how positional power can trump expert power and leave the expert pissed off and disengaged. I used to serve on a variety Boards of Directors, both commercial and not-for profit. I eventually got fed up and decided to stop serving on boards as I got pissed off one too many times.

The problem is that once you make someone a director of something (or a mentor) many of them think they automatically know everything, otherwise why would they be a director. They often think that every member of a board has equal say, even when they have no background in a topic.

The end result is that a group of non-experts vote down the recommendations of an expert because they have positional power. It happens too inside companies where bone-headed upper management decides something completely in contradiction to the recommendations of their own experts.

Maybe I can make a game of Rock, Paper Scissors out of different types of power.