If you’ve ever tried to negotiate with a toddler, you’ll know that just because you are in a position of leadership over someone does not mean that you have power over them. You can threaten and chide and plead all you want, but unless that small child views you as having control over them, they will not comply. You can’t have authority if others don’t give it to you. 


Remember the three things you can control: 1) who you trust, 2) your attitude/ perspective, and 3) your actions/ choices. You can control who you choose to trust, but you cannot control whether or not other people trust you. We can make choices to improve ourselves and make ourselves more trustworthy, but the ultimate decision to trust still lies with the other person. 

In the last article we defined power as the ability to influence others, or the opportunity to lead. In this article we are going to unpack the 5 types of influence, and the ability everyone has to gain influence in different ways. 

Positional Power

Positional power is gained through an authority title such as “boss,” “teacher,” or “police officer.” We respect these people because of the title given to them. Stewarding positional power well involves making sure that you are worthy of the responsibility being given to you and are seeking to serve those you are over instead of relying on your title as a means to control others. 

Coercive and Reward Power

When someone perceives that you have the ability to enact a negative consequence if they refuse to cooperate, you have coercive power. Likewise, you have reward power when they perceive that you can give them good things for a job well done. 

Going back to my earlier example of the toddler, we often use coercive and reward power with children: such as “you hit your sister so you have to sit in time out now” or “if you finish all your vegetables you may have dessert.” This method works for children because they respond well to the punishment/reward system and learn to associate good things with good behavior. With adults, it can be beneficial in the short term for motivation, but it could create a transaction culture if learned in the long term. 

Expert Power

If someone believes that you have knowledge on a subject, then you have expert power. For example, my college professors had positional power, because of the title “professor” that they were given, but they also had expert power because I believed them to be highly knowledgeable in their fields. In this case, if they had positional power without expert, I would not have respected them solely based on their title. 

It is important when trying to gain expert power that you not come off as a know-it-all or bragging, because that would harm your referent power. You can also only gain expert power if you actually know what you’re talking about. If you pretend to know what you’re doing, you can lose long term influence when you get found out. 

Referent Power

Referent Power is the most influential of all the types. It has to do with character, and having it means that others want to emulate you. This is gained by doing the hard work of self-reflection and self-betterment. Again, bettering yourself is not going to “make” everyone else give you referent power, but it will increase the likelihood. 

We cannot control who trusts us, but we can control our own choices. And we can make choices to better ourselves and help us gain influence, which we will explore in greater detail in the next article. 

Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.