The Power of Influence


In the 1990’s movie “Goodfellas,” we witness how individuals can rapidly move up the power chain through influence. In fact, it is an all-time classic gangster movie. Goodfellas grossed over $46.8 million domestically and received many national awards and reviews.

Here’s the synopsis. Henry Hill (Ray Liotte) grew up with a vision of a Mafia lifestyle. It was a dream that would garnish him wealth, power, and influence. Henry aggressively worked toward this ambition. He would become successful. Once a small time gangster, Henry became a major player; he participated in a major robbery with Jimmy Conway (Robert De Nero) and Tommy De Vito (Joe Pesci). His two partners managed to kill off everyone else involved in the robbery and slowly advance the hierarchy of the Mob. Henry had finally gotten the power and influence he craved along with other intended consequences.

Today, many managers tend to operate like gorillas in power.  People in organizations tend to follow the person in power, not necessarily the best thinkers. This is called the Alpha Principle.  Harry Beckwith, marketing author, states that most organizations operate like apes. He notes, “The alphas dictate what the group does and thinks. 

But are alphas better at decision making?  Not necessarily. Alphas are just better at getting and keeping power.”  Poorly skilled managers cause a lot of unnecessary stress to families because they don’t understand how to treat people.  Employees then bring it home to their families, thereby creating more problems. In this discussion, we will examine how individual workers can gain more influence in their organizations.

Levels of Power

There are a variety of ways influences can obtain influence in contemporary organizations.  In fact, leadership is a combination of power and influence.  Leader can be defined as the ability to influence, guide, and direct others.  Leaders get people to do things they wouldn’t normally do alone.  Power is a key component of leadership.  Power is the ability of a person in an organization to influence others to accomplish a desired outcome.  In most organizations power often evolves into the domination of others. 

Given this dynamic of organizations, managers need to understand their organizations. James Gibson, John Ivancevich, James Donelly, Jr., and Robert Konopaske, author of Organizations, argue that individuals need to understand how organizations operate.  In many organizations, there is a power struggle.  Power relates to the ability to get others to do what one wants them to do.  Given this framework, five interpersonal bases of power can be summarized as legitimate power, reward, coercive, referent, and expert power. 

In legitimate power, a person’s ability to influence others is given by being in a position of power. In fact, the person’s influence is authorized by his title in the organization.  There is little an individual can do if they do not possess this legitimate in changing the way things are done.  Coercive and reward power are based on the same premise; it is a person’s ability to reward or punish the behavior of others.

In fact, these sources of power are often used to support the use of legitimate power. Therefore, if you are not in a position to apply coercive or reward power, gaining influence in a contemporary organization may prove to be too difficult.  The above items are considered organizational power.

When individuals do not have title in an organization, they should be strategic in gaining more influence in the organization. The two major factors are referent and expert power. Referent power is based on a person’s charisma due to the personality or style of behavior.

Gibson, Ivancevich, Donelly, and Konopaske maintain that the strength of a person’s charisma is an indication of a person’s referent power. This power can be effective in leading others to make better decisions. People will at least listen to you because they instinctively trust you as a leader. Unfortunately, not everyone has that type of a magnetic personality.

Expert power is the power to influence others based on special expertise.  Even when an individual may have low rank in an organization, expert power makes the individual invaluable. Expert power can relate to administrative, technical, or other personal attributes. It goes to the Law of Scarcity.  Therefore, the most difficult a person is to replace, the greater the individual’s power in the organization. Individuals can gain this power in several ways.

First, a person can learn about the organization’s needs or deficiencies and seek to fill this knowledge gap.  For example, a small consulting firm may lacks the skills to promote itself. An employee with this ability could provide this additional service to this organization. Thus, the employee gains power. Second, employees can take additional training and obtain special certifications which can assist the organization in achieving its mission.

Third, individuals can become an authority in an area and become a hot commodity.  In fact, a person who can train, teach, lecture, and write on a particular subject can gain influence in his or her organization as well as outside of the organization. Finally, gaining expert power may not propel you into the next manager level. However, it will give you great influence in your organization as well as the community. Therefore, your influence becomes mobile and makes you more competitive in the marketplace.



As businesses fight to stay alive in the changing marketplace, there is an increasing need for effective leaders. Gaining influence becomes a premium for emerging leaders. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends Influence and Influence People, argued the importance of influencing others:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

The article demonstrated that there are a variety of power types in most organizations.  Unfortunately, some manager’s fear their losing power and are unwilling to share decision-making. Yet, entrusting good employees to make good decisions is a catalysis for creating high performance teams. Learning how to influence others is critical. Individuals do not have to be the boss in order to possess power in the organization.

However, not everyone has leadership persona. Referent power is derived from personal characteristics that employees admire.  But—empowerment increases employee morale.  Some people don’t understand the merits of satisfied employees on the bottom line.  Sadly, many people cannot distinguish a manager from a leader. Yet, leadership is all about gaining influence, regardless of the organizational level.

How can individuals gain influence with social media and other new technologies? Are there any ways to garnish more influence?

 © 2011 by Daryl D. Green