Power Versus Influence

Posted on April 5, 2012.

Ever witness the frustration of a manager who has the power of a title, but no influence over the people who work for him or her? I once worked in a department where a highly respected manager was promoted out and replaced by someone with no experience, but a close personal relationship with the big boss.  What had been a high performing department began to unravel at the seams.  Everyone liked the new manager, but no one respected him. Why was this a problem?

According to Alison Fragale, a professor of organizational behavior who was recently quoted in Keenan Flager's R.O.I. magazine, “if your power and your status are out of balance people react negatively to you, and they’ll find ways to shut you down.” I always wondered why, exactly, the aforementioned manager completely bombed? There was a seasoned team under him, and he wasn’t an ogre, but he became so frustrated that he left the company.  Until now, I thought it was just a case of the wrong person for the job, but a study that was co-authored by Fragale and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology highlighted the main problem – he didn’t have the same level of influence or respect (which the study calls social status) as he did power.

Power is conferred by the position, but influence, or status, is conferred on a person by what other people think of them. So his friend in high places could give him power to control departmental resources, but not the respect of the people around him. Fragale has found that even when high-powered managers give good advice it isn’t taken if their status is low.

Conversely, giving power to employees who already yield a lot of influence can make things work more smoothly. When promoting someone into a position of power, consider how the people around them perceive him or her. Most of all, realize that influence doesn’t come with the promotion, but should already be present if you want that person to succeed.