Positional Power vs. Personal Power

Positional Power vs. Personal Power

by Uma Muthuraaman

I’ve worked in both Asia and Europe with people of different cultural backgrounds. Some team leaders inspire me to go the extra mile and fill me with a sense of fulfillment, and some others have made me dread the workplace so much so that I’ve never wanted to be on a payroll again. In both cases, the team leaders were extremely competent, highly educated, well-read, and well traveled too. While one brought out the best in me and thrust me to new heights in a new environment, the other sapped my energy, leaving me to do only the essential that had to be completed to get paid. These contrasting experiences made me reflect on power.

What is power?

Power as human potential is the ability to influence the behaviour of others or the course of events.

While influence is the ability to affect the behaviour of someone or something, it can stem from a position one holds in an organization or from one’s personal character and skills. Therefore the former is called Positional power and the latter, Personal power.

Positional power is the authority one wields by one’s position in an organization’s structure and hierarchy. Personal power is the ability to influence people and events with or without formal authority.

Personal power is more of a person’s attitude or state of mind rather than an attempt to maneuver or control others. Its primary aim is self-mastery: competence, vision, positive personal (human) qualities, and service.

Positional power, on the other hand, is the power that is vested in a person by others – particularly the people who form or lead an organization. Positional power buttressed by a set of rules and laws applies only in a specific framework, example within an institution, a nation, or a corporate. The primary aim of this power is to ensure that a group of people conform and work together towards common goals set out for the larger group.

While positional power can get tasks done in an expected way and ensure that everyone works towards the same goal, it is personal power that inspires people. Personal power wins the hearts and minds of people instead of merely ensuring a specific predetermined outcome. It doesn’t seek to affect a result merely – it inspires people to rise to greater heights, walk the extra mile and be more than they thought to be.

These two types of power are not exclusive, but often, they are two very different styles of influence.  Many great leaders rise to visibility due to their personal power. Formal authority is then entrusted with them to serve as a platform for their purpose – a platform to do more good. At the other end of the spectrum, are many who rise the ranks of an organization based on their competence and continue to grow by wielding authority that comes with their rank and position.

Soft skills such a person’s authenticity, character, and communication skills play a significant role in personal power. The larger purpose for which an individual devotes time and allocates personal resources are also factors that enhance personal power.


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About the Author

Uma Muthuraaman, is a communication consultant who has worked in both Asia and Europe. She is very enthusiastic on the topic of women’s leadership. Especially as a mother who balances her time between family, work and social causes she brings a wealth of experience to leadership. Uma is currently based in Cologne. She loves to write and tell stories through images and words. You can browse her at www.umamuthuraaman.com