Posted by: healingtheworkplace | December 1, 2011

Don’t Feel Powerless at Work!

Do you feel powerless to make changes at work? I think most of us feel powerless at least some of the time and yet by understanding the different types of power we can use this to our advantage.

If we don’t speak up when we see injustices at work we harm ourselves physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. In other posts I’ve talked about the harmful effect of workplace stress on our health so I won’t go into that right now.

There are lots of other negative effects of not speaking up but I don’t want to dwell on them either.

Instead I’d like to talk about what we can do. I began this post by saying that most of us feel powerless at least some of the time. But we don’t have to feel powerless all of the time. We can learn how to influence people and events for the common good.

In fact, leadership implies that we are able to influence others to achieve our mutual goals.

Power and influence are two sides of the same coin.  What do you think of when you hear the word power? For many people power has negative connotations but effecting change at work is impossible without power.

I recently read an article by Frank Petrock who wrote, “Most everyone tends to associate power with the dark side of human nature and with being autocratic and dictatorial…and no one wants to admit they want power and/or even to have it.”

In his work with leaders Dr. Petrock was able to reframe power from a negative to a positive by describing power as the energy we use in our daily lives to make things move in the direction we want them. Think about it! We need power to get things done!

There are at least seven difference sources of power:

  • Coercive
  • Reward
  • Legitimate
  • Connection
  • Information
  • Expert
  • Referent

These seven sources of power are either based on your position or on who you are as a person. Connection, information, expert, and referent are all sources of personal power. In other words these are within our control and give us the capacity to influence the behavior of others.

And this means that when we speak…others listen.

In the next post I’ll talk about what it means to ‘find your voice’. This is one of the leadership skills taught by Kouzes and Posner authors of The Leadership Challenge.

Here are some coaching questions to get you thinking about how you use your power at work:

  • What type of power do you use most often?
  • Is this effective?
  • Where do you give your power away? To whom? When?




  1. Work environments can be challenging! Just talked with a woman whose husband is a company favorite because he can ‘clean out dead-wood’ an office in two months…by figuring out what the employee dislikes and then push them into what they hate most. Sadly, the ‘dead-wood’ may not be ‘bad’ employees. They can just be people who don’t fit the corporate mold. We are finally addressing bullying in schools….the workplace sometimes lags behind.

    • Hi Kiki, it is a good thing that we are doing something about bullying in schools…although perhaps not enough and for some reason bullying in the workplace gets very little press…wonder why that is? Lesley

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