I've Got The Power: Definitions and Forms of Power

Power struggles are omnipresent. You will encounter them in school but that will be nothing like what you will encounter in your career.

Essentially, there are two kinds of power: power based on personal traits and power based on the position one holds.


Needless to say, some people are in positions of authority. The President of the United States is perceived to be the leader of the free world and can do what he pleases. However, if he steps out of line, like some have, he is subject to impeachment.


Since your address is not 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, let's come back to reality and use professors as an example. They are the ones that determine the class outline, formulate exams and hand out grades. Like it or not, they are in the driver's seat and you are lucky to be in the trunk.


The second type of power based on position is reward power. If you happen to have a job at current time, you can attest to the fact that your manager has reward power. He or she can give you a day off, a raise or a promotion. True, the reward is based on productivity and personality, but the buck stops with them.


Surely you have heard the expression "do as I say, not as I do." Well, if you ever failed to listen to the adage, you probably got some form of punishment. This is an example of coercive power.


A fourth form of position power is information power. Technical information is a precious resource these days. When a computer site gets hacked, every one wants to get in touch with the technical people to see what happened. After all, they have or are perceived to have the precious information to solve the problem.


If you are sweating bricks because you have few if any of these types of power, fear not. Most develop these over time. You may be in luck. You see, there is a second form of power relevant to someone in your situation.


Traditionally, philosophers were seen as wise men that held answers to life's many questions. These were men with extensive educational backgrounds. So while it can be argued that they held rational power, their power stemmed in fact from position. It was their position that allowed them to become students of the greatest thinkers at the time. For example, Alexander The Great was Aristotle's student, who in turn was Plato's student. Plato himself was Socrates' apprentice.

An example of rational power is probably typified every day in your classes. Surely you have met, come across or worked with that one student that not only has off the wall ideas, but who can present them well and manage to convince the students and professor of their feasibility. If you have not yet, give it time. Who knows, maybe you fit the profile. Regardless, this is one form of rational power. These individuals tend to make good lawyers and even better businesspeople.


After the 9/11 attacks, CNN regularly featured terrorist expert Peter Bergen. His information and familiarity with the suspected terrorist ranked him as an expert in the matter. But it was not the information alone; after all, anyone could search online and find information on Osama bin Laden. Bergen was an expert because he was one of the few men (still alive that is) who had interviewed the leader of Al-Qaeda.


Some people are liked more than others. They are either better human beings, make others laugh or share mutual interests. These people have significant power over others.