Think about someone you admire. This could be someone you know in real life–a parent or teacher, a good friend or mentor–or it could be an important historical, political or artistic figure. Why do you admire them? What about the way they live their life makes you pause and consider the way you live your own?
People we want to emulate have Referent Power over us. Other power types stake their influence on their position over someone or what they will give or take from you. But with Referent Power, the way you conduct yourself is compelling enough on its own.
The ironic part of Referent Power is that you can’t get Referent Power by trying to get Referent Power. You instead develop Referent Power by building your character. Referent Power cannot be faked, it can only be built. You cannot pretend to be someone of good character. It must be developed overtime until it is a part of who you are.
This is because trust is an essential part of Referent Power.
Have you ever looked up to someone only to later find out that they weren’t who you thought they were? Maybe it was a pastor or religious leader whose moral failings were revealed. Or maybe it was a friend who lied to you about some part of their past or a coworker whose personality changes depending on who they’re around.
In order to have Referent Power, you have to be trustworthy. And to be trustworthy, you have to be authentic: not pretending to be someone you’re not just because you think it will make others like or respect you more. This “people pleasing” tactic easily backfires because Referent Power is not something you can force someone to give you. It is an influence they will naturally bestow because of admiration. And people admire different things.
Growing your Referent Power begins with living out of your values. If you have yet to do so, we would encourage you to go through the values exercise to determine what is important to you. Do you value hard work? What about creativity or community? What you value most will help guide what character traits you want to grow in.
Trust is also built over time through lived experiences. It’s very rare that you trust someone immediately. They have to earn your trust by continuing to prove themselves to be trustworthy.
While it is difficult and time consuming, as a leader, building trust and growing in your Referent Power is an important endeavor. Not only for those you lead, but for yourself as well to become a more diligent and consistent person who is capable of self-governance and leading others well.
Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.