Personal Power In Leadership: What does it mean?

Dive into the realm of personal power in leadership. Uncover its essence, debunk common myths, and understand the relationship with dependent variables. Harness your leadership potential more effectively.

what is personal power in leadership

In Short

In this exploration of personal power in leadership, we delved into the foundational understanding of power and its multifaceted roles in leadership dynamics.

Contrary to common misconceptions, personal power isn't about dominance or hierarchical authority.

Instead, it emphasizes the significance of authenticity, interpersonal relationships, and positive influence. There are various kinds of power, from positional to personal, and different stages and sources through which it evolves.

A key difference in harnessing personal power is understanding the relationship between dependent variables and how they affect leadership outcomes.

Practical steps are provided below to help individuals nurture and effectively utilize their personal power, paving the way for more impactful and ethical leadership.

By debunking myths and understanding personal power's true essence, leaders can forge meaningful connections and make more informed decisions.

In Long

In the vast realm of leadership, the concept of power has always been a central theme. Power, often associated with leadership roles, can be viewed through multiple lenses, from the authority imprinted on a business card to the interpersonal skills one possesses.

While many might immediately think of formal authority, the organizational hierarchy, or higher positions when the term 'power' is mentioned, its essence goes far beyond just positional or managerial power.

There's referent power, built from strong relationships, and expert power, stemming from special knowledge or technical skills.

Then, there's the legitimate power of managerial positions and the coercive power that, despite its negative connotation, plays a role in organizational commitment.

Reward power, on the other hand, involves positive outcomes and beneficial follower outcomes, such as higher employee job satisfaction.


The evolvement of ethical leadership in recent times, reinforced by empirical research, shows the socially responsible use of power and its ethical dimension.

Ethical behavior, as many great leaders across different times have shown, is not just an essential element of leadership but a source of strong personal power.

However, it's the personal power model, rooted in a leader's personal qualities and personal relationships, that truly captures the heart of influential leadership.

This type of power, different from types of positional power, is not solely dependent on a higher rank or a title but rather on being a role model, a good listener, and exhibiting socially responsible power use.

As the empirical data suggests, the beneficial outcomes of this power, when used ethically, can foster higher job satisfaction and a more robust organizational commitment.

The evolution and definitions of traditional scholarly work in this area, from Brown et al. to more recent studies, underline the essential nature of personal power in leadership.

This post will delve deep into understanding these various types of power, the stages of personal power, and how one can harness their own personal power for positive change, while also highlighting the role of the ethical leadership-outcome link.

Understanding Personal Power and Its Role in Leadership

Position power, often linked to a higher position within an organizational hierarchy, is the kind of power most people identify with. It's tied to job descriptions, titles, and the perceived authority that comes from them. But while this source of power is crucial in certain situations, it's not the sole advantage of power in leadership.

Delving deeper, personal power is more about a leader's personal characteristics and their ability to influence the behavior of others. Unlike position power, which is more about external factors and where one stands on the organizational ladder, personal power is derived from the leader's personal power bases. This includes their ethical behavior, social skills, and their ability to resonate and connect with different people in a given situation.

A key difference here is that positional leaders primarily rely on their official roles to assert authority, whereas leaders who operate from personal power influence through their very essence. They are the type of leaders who, when they walk into a room, radiate an energy of authenticity and great responsibility. Their mere presence can elicit extra effort from their teams, not because of a mandate but due to genuine respect and the positive relationship they've cultivated.

The ethical dimension of leadership is another pivotal aspect. In an era where moral scandals in leadership positions make headlines, the promotion of such conduct becomes a severe concern.

The effects of ethical leadership have been studied extensively, showing an empirically confirmed relationship between ethical leaders and positive outcomes. A leader's ability to harness personal power while maintaining an ethical stance is a great thing, fostering trust and respect from their team.

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A growing number of studies have delved into the influencing process of ethical leadership. For instance, the moderated mediation model reveals how personal power, combined with ethical behavior, results in leader effectiveness. The model emphasizes the moderating role of an employee and how their attachment or relationship to the leader can amplify or diminish the effects of leadership.

Furthermore, the role of power in leadership is continuously evolving, leading to the emergence of new leadership styles. One of the emerging concepts is the moderating function of moral identity. As power holders, leaders must always be cautious not to exploit their power at the expense of others. The way they use their power, especially when intertwined with their moral identity, can significantly influence how they are perceived.

While the bases of power in leadership are multifaceted, it's evident that the true strength of a leader lies not just in their position but in their personal attributes, ethical stance, and ability to relate and inspire. Personal power isn't about wielding great power; it's about the careful, responsible, and socially aware application of that power.

Navigating Through Different Stages of Power as a Personal Leader

Let's take a moment to think about our journey as leaders. Just like life, leadership also goes through different stages of power. Starting from when we first realize we have the potential to lead, all the way to mastering the art of influence, each stage has its lessons, and today, I'm here to walk with you through this insightful path.

In the initial stages, our leadership might lean more on the position or title we hold. It's like being given a shiny new toy; it's exciting, and we want to show it off. But as we grow, we learn that real leadership—the best way to lead—isn't just about the title on our business card. It's about becoming a personal leader, someone who inspires and guides not because they have to, but because they want to.

As we evolve, we also realize the different kinds of power at play. Some are evident, like the power of our position, and some are subtle, like our personal attributes or our ability to form strong bonds—a concept beautifully explained by attachment theory.

"Think of it like our friendships. The friends we feel closest to aren't just the ones we've known the longest but the ones who've been there during the highs and lows, understanding and supporting us."

Speaking of understanding, have you ever thought about the attribution of personal power bases? It's about recognizing where our power as leaders truly comes from. Is it from the authority of a position? Or is it from the respect and trust we've earned? These are essential questions every leader should ponder.

Now, let's talk about styles. Just like fashion, there's no one-size-fits-all in leadership. With the changing dynamics of the modern workplace, we're witnessing the emergence of a new leadership style—one that values empathy, openness, and genuine connection. As personal leaders, it's crucial to adapt and learn, to not just stick to one way of leading but be fluid and flexible, adjusting to the needs and aspirations of those we lead.

Leadership is a journey, not a destination. There will be trials, errors, lessons, and triumphs. Embrace every stage, every experience. Grow, learn, and most importantly, lead with heart. That's the real power of a personal leader.

The Positive Impact of Personal Power in Leadership

Delving into the world of leadership, one quickly realizes the transformative potential of personal power. Unlike power derived solely from positions or titles, personal power is an intrinsic strength, anchored in self-awareness, authenticity, and a genuine passion.

Leaders who harness this inner power are often perceived as more authentic, evoking trust and credibility among their teams. Their decisions, driven by self-belief rather than external validations, are flexible and innovative, adjusting gracefully to varying situations.

Moreover, their intrinsic motivation makes them resilient against challenges and inspires others to tap into their own reservoirs of personal power. Such leaders also tend to prioritize ethical considerations, putting the greater good above personal gains. In essence, personal power in leadership is a beacon, illuminating the path to both individual and collective growth.


Harnessing Personal Power: Practical Steps

Embracing personal power doesn't happen overnight. It requires consistent effort, introspection, and deliberate steps. Here's actions for you to take:

Self-awareness and Reflection

The foundation of personal power starts with understanding oneself. Take some time each day, even just a few minutes, to reflect on your actions, feelings, and thoughts. For example, keeping a journal can be a transformative way to track your growth. By documenting your experiences, you can identify patterns, triggers, and strengths that define you, thus leading to a deeper understanding and appreciation of yourself.

Set Clear Boundaries

Know your limits and communicate them assertively. If, for instance, you're uncomfortable with a particular task at work or a situation in your personal life, voice your concerns. Setting boundaries not only protects your well-being but also showcases your respect for your own needs and values.

Continuous Learning

Embrace every opportunity to learn. Whether it's picking up a new hobby, reading a book, or taking a course related to your profession, continued growth is crucial. This is more than just acquiring knowledge; it's about being open to new experiences and perspectives, which strengthens your adaptability and broadens your worldview.

Seek Feedback

While personal power is an intrinsic quality, understanding how others perceive you can be enlightening. Regularly ask colleagues, friends, or mentors for feedback. They might provide a perspective or observation that you hadn't considered, allowing you to refine your approach and develop a more comprehensive understanding of your impact on others.

Practice Active Listening

This means genuinely paying attention to what others are saying without formulating your response mid-conversation. By doing so, you not only understand their perspective better but also validate their feelings and thoughts. This fosters trust and strengthens your relationships, fortifying your personal power in interpersonal interactions.

Empathize and Show Compassion

It's one thing to understand people, and another to truly feel for them. For instance, if a team member is going through a tough time, offering a listening ear or just being there for them can make a world of difference. When leaders show compassion, they create an environment where everyone feels valued and understood.

Celebrate Small Wins

Personal power also thrives on recognizing and celebrating achievements, no matter how small. Did you manage to stay calm in a stressful situation? That's a win! Did you successfully complete a challenging task? Another win! By acknowledging these moments, you reinforce positive behaviors and boost your confidence.

In essence, harnessing personal power involves recognizing and nurturing your inner strengths while staying connected and compassionate towards others. It's a journey of growth, empathy, and resilience, leading to a more impactful and authentic leadership style.

Common Misconceptions about Personal Power

The topic of personal power is surrounded by a myriad of myths and misconceptions. To harness its full potential, it's crucial to debunk these misconceptions. Let's address some of the most common ones.

Equating Power with Dominance. Many mistakenly believe that to have personal power, one must dominate or overshadow others. In reality, personal power is about authentic self-expression, understanding, and collaboration, not about overpowering or diminishing others.

Believing It's Inherent. While some people naturally exude a sense of power, it doesn’t mean it’s exclusively inherent. Personal power can be cultivated and developed over time with conscious effort, introspection, and experience.

Assuming It's Solely Linked to Position. Another common misconception is equating personal power strictly with one's job title or rank. While a higher position might bring certain privileges, genuine personal power is derived from one's qualities, actions, and interactions, not just a title.

Seeing It as Unchanging. Some might think once they've achieved a certain level of personal power, it remains static. Like any other skill or quality, it needs regular nurturing, reflection, and adaptation to different situations and challenges.


Equating Power with Lack of Vulnerability. There's a flawed notion that showing vulnerability diminishes one's power. In contrast, showcasing vulnerability, when appropriate, can strengthen connections, build trust, and enhance one's authenticity — all of which bolster personal power.

Thinking It's Only for Leaders. While the discussion often centers on leadership roles, personal power is for everyone, irrespective of their position or profession. Every individual, by understanding and harnessing their personal power, can positively influence their surroundings and relationships.

Mistaking It for Arrogance. Personal power is rooted in confidence, but there's a thin line between confidence and arrogance. It's essential to be aware of this distinction. Personal power is about self-assuredness, while arrogance often stems from insecurity and can lead to the alienation of others.

Understanding and avoiding these misconceptions can guide individuals on a genuine path to discovering and nurturing their personal power. When approached with clarity and sincerity, personal power becomes a transformative tool that amplifies one's impact, fosters authentic relationships, and drives meaningful change.

Something to think about

Navigating the realm of personal power can seem like a complex journey, fraught with misconceptions and challenges. However, as we've unraveled, personal power isn't about dominance or mere positional authority. It's about authenticity, self-awareness, and the ability to influence positively.

It's an ever-evolving force, one that is both deeply personal and profoundly universal. Anyone can enhance their leadership capabilities and interpersonal dynamics. By debunking myths, understanding the nuanced facets of power, and taking proactive steps to harness it.

Whether you're at the helm of an organization or just starting on your professional path. Recognize that personal power is a beacon that can guide you toward meaningful connections and impactful leadership. Embrace it, nurture it, and watch it transform. Not only your relationships but also your understanding of yourself in this vast tapestry of human interactions.

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