How Power Works

To lead or influence people effectively, you must have a sufficient power base. There are eleven sources of power: five personal sources (knowledge, expressiveness, history, attraction, and character), five organizational sources (role, resources, information, network, and reputation), and one meta-source, will). Below is a brief explanation of each of these power sources. For a more comprehensive explanation of them, see my book The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence (January 2011).

battery power
©Yury Shirokov/

Power in people is like power in batteries. The higher the voltage of a battery, the more electromotive force it can deliver and thus the more impact it can have. A 1,000-volt battery is far more powerful than a 10-volt battery. Likewise, people with greater sources of power are better able to lead and influence others than people with fewer and lesser sources of power. The more powerful you are, the more influence you will have.

Personal Sources of Power


Your knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities, as well as your learning, wisdom, and accomplishments. Power derived from what you know and can do. People rated high in knowledge power are three times more influential than people rated low in knowledge power.


Your ability to communicate powerfully and effectively in written and oral forms. Power based on the clarity, energy, conviction, and eloquence of speech. In its most powerful form, expressiveness is related to charisma. Building this power source will increase your influence effectiveness more than building any other power source. Expressiveness is strongly correlated with three other power sources: character, attraction, and reputation.


Shorthand for “history with the person you are trying to lead or influence.� Power derived from familiarity and trust with another person. Based on the psychological principles of liking, similarity, and reciprocity. Between people who know each other well, this can be the most important power source. High ratings on history power are strongly correlated with high ratings on interpersonal skills.


The ability to attract others by causing them to like you. Based on physical attractiveness as well as authenticity; commonality of values, attitudes, or beliefs; personality; character; wisdom; shared experience; and many other factors. Globally, one of the strongest power sources. High ratings on this power source more than triple your influence effectiveness.


Power based on people's perceptions of your character, including such elements of character as integrity, honesty, fairness, courage, kindness, modesty, prudence, and so on. A significant source of personal power. Ranked #1 globally.

Organizational Sources of Power


Power derived from your role in a group, organization, or community. The legitimate power and authority vested in a role or position. Can be a significant source of power but can also lead to abuses of power if not used wisely. Is strongest when combined with high ratings on character, attraction, knowledge, expressiveness, and reputation power.


Power derived from your ownership or control of important resources (such as wealth or natural resources) that other people value and need. Typically, not a strong source of power for most people.


Your access to and control of information. This power source has five elements that form the mnemonic RADIO: retrieval, access, dissemination, interpretation, and organization. Together and separately, these capabilities enable people to lead and influence others through the effective deployment of information.


Power derived from the breadth and quality of your connections with other people. Based on the social capita of network members through reciprocal respect, admiration, favor granting, and collaboration. A substantial source of organizational power. High ratings on this power source can triple your influence effectiveness and make you twice as inspirational as people with low network power.


Power based on an estimation of the overall quality of a person by others in a community (team, organization, or society) to which the person belongs. A significant source of power for people who are well thought of—and a significant power drain for those with poor reputations. High ratings on this power source more than triple your influence effectiveness and significantly increase the likelihood that others will follow you.

Will Power (a meta-source)


Power based on your desire to be more powerful coupled with the courage to act. This power comes from within and can magnify every other source of power. It depends entirely on your decision to act—on passion and commitment but also on energy and action. Will power is different from desire and longing. It comes not from the impulse to act but from acting on the impulse. The most important power source of all. Compared to low will power, high will power can increase your leadership and influence effectiveness by a factor of ten.

In my book The Elements of Power, I cite examples of otherwise ordinary people who have accomplished a great deal through the sheer force of their will. 

Copyright © 2010 by Terry R. Bacon.  All rights reserved.

Next: How Influence Works

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