How To Tap Into The Power You Already Have

Feeling powerless can be counterproductive to success at work and in life. But you probably have more of it than you think, if you know how to frame it correctly.

How To Tap Into The Power You Already Have

Benjamin Franklin wrote that nothing makes you more productive than the last minute. Here I am, in a warm car in my driveway, my kids surely romping up and down the stairs in my house. I so want to run inside and play with them, but there is something I must finish first. An impossible task, really. Completing a project that really I could explore forever: how to build and exercise power.


What is bugging me is why I have less power than I think I deserve. I’ve written book. I’ve dedicated myself to spending late nights and red-eye flights to faraway places to find, capture, and share insights that can help you make a better world. I’ve worked to help you build your business faster and accelerate your career. And on one hand, I feel great about my progress; even 10 years ago I could not dream of having this life and career.
But you know how it is. You’ve felt it too, if you really think about it. You look over at the desk next to yours, think about who you will reconnect with at the next reunion, certain that he will have a bigger house, nicer car, and more beautifully perfect family and think…what happened?

It’s been 13 years since I graduated from business school and the progress of my classmates has dispersed enough that we can see some clear winners and losers. One friend runs a $5 billion division of a Fortune 500 company. Another reports to the CEO of a leading media brand. Others toil away in cubicles.

I’m not saying that simply having a “title” will make you happy. I’d rather do fulfilling work with people I love being with than command more authority but, just for a moment, let’s look at that one, cold component of life–what Friedrich Nietzsche argued is the driving force of humans: power.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we hold strong negative associations with power. But in reality, power is a tool. According to Martin Luther King, Jr., “Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose…there is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly.” King used power to end segregation. Mohandas Gandhi used power to convince Great Britain to leave India. Nelson Mandela used power to end apartheid. Nothing negative about that.

What could you do with more power?

If you read my last post, hopefully you now have defined a purpose that would motivate you to really do something meaningful with more power. I’ve been fine-tuning what my purpose is; at the moment, I think it’s something like helping you realize you can outthink anything…any challenge or obstacle that falls in the path between you and your dreams. That is worth building power to achieve.


So now, I’d like to share with you 17 sources of power. I’ve found at least eight different lists that attempt to categorize sources of power. They are grouped into three domains:

•Person: sources of power you personally bring to the game (e.g., your charisma)
•Organization: sources of power you get through your organization (e.g., your control over resources)
•Society: sources of power given to you by your place in society (e.g., your age, your gender)

For each source, I’d like you to ask “Am I getting enough power?” and “How can I generate more?” When I did this for myself, I saw six tangible things I could do immediately to become more powerful. I am sure you will see similar opportunities. Please let me know how it goes.

1. Logos or logic: your ability to articulate a compelling argument. Are my arguments usually convincing?
2. Ethos – credibility: how trustworthy and credible you are in the eyes of others; your reputation. Do others trust my decisions and values?
3. Ethos – expertise: the extent to which you are viewed as a capable expert; your skill; your track record. Do people usually turn to me for my expertise?
4. Ethos – self interest: the extent to which you are viewed as putting others’ interests and the organization’s interests above your own. Would others say that I put the team’s organization’s interests above my own with no hidden agenda?
5. Pathos – passion: your ability to connect with others’ values and activate their passions. Am I able to understand others’ values and inspire them?
6. Pathos – referent power: the extent to which others desire to identify with you or with what you represent. Would others call me a role model?
7. Pathos – energy: your energy level and the energy you can activate in others. Would others say I have a lot of energy?
8. Commitment: your level of commitment to a goal/ vision. Do I really believe and am I really committed to my organization’s goals?

9. Resources 1: your ability to control how financial resources are distributed. Can I make resource allocation decisions?
10. Resources 2: your ability to control information. Do I have preferential access to valuable information?
11. Resources 3: your ability to control psychological resources (e.g., recognition). Do I have the power to set rewards and recognition?
12. Formal authority including your title, ability to set rewards and punishments, your power to define the rules. Remember Machiavelli’s advice on this point: “It is best to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both, it is better to be feared than loved.” In my role, can I set punishments and define structure (e.g., who reports to whom)?
13. Location: your location in the network, proximity to power, information, and the nexus of activity. Do I rub elbows regularly with those with power and/or information? How much time do I spend with the CEO?
14. Visibility: the extent to which your actions and successes are visible to others. Do others notice when I act or succeed?

15. Societal power: the extent to which societal factors (like your gender, cultural background, social class) give you power. Is my place in society appreciated and valued?
16. Timing: the extent to which your purpose/ goal/ vision fits broad changes in society and the world. For example, does your mission resonate with global warming or another concept of growing importance? What key long-term trends (e.g., societal, macro-economic) are supporting my current efforts or role?
17. Geography: the extent to which your geographical location gives you power (e.g., do you operate in a high-growth region?) Am I in the right place?


I created a workbook that includes these sources of power as well as 12 tactics you can use to exercise power more skillfully, mostly linked to the 36 stratagems in my book Outthink the Competition. Click here for a free copy.

[Image: Flickr user Christoph Spiegl]


About the author

Author of Outthink the Competition business strategy keynote speaker and CEO of Outthinker, a strategic innovation firm, Kaihan Krippendorff teaches executives, managers and business owners how to seize opportunities others ignore, unlock innovation, and build strategic thinking skills. Companies such as Microsoft, Citigroup, and Johnson & Johnson have successfully implemented Kaihan’s approach because their executive leadership sees the value of his innovative technique. Kaihan has delivered business strategy keynote speeches for organizations such as Motorola, Schering‐Plough, Colgate‐Palmolive, Fortune Magazine, Harvard Business Review, the Society of Human Resource Managers, the Entrepreneurs Organization, and The Asia Society