Role Power and Relationship Power

I’ve learned so much from Mark and Mike at Manager Tools.

This is one of the best distillations of a major leadership obstacle:

When we lead, by virtue of our title or position in the organizational structure, we have built-in authority and power. This is Role Power.

The problem is, if this is the only way we work with others, it is ineffective. We are at “Level 2” (review the Four Levels if you haven’t recently) when we make a habit of Role Power.

The kind of power that actually works is Relationship Power. Role Power is appropriate in rare cases – major insubordination, safety violations, institutional emergency. But if we make a habit of Relationship Power, we stay above the line.


Role Power: “You keep delivering late. I’m going to need you to report your progress directly to me each day.”

Relationship Power: “Delivering late has become a habit for you; we’re going to have to come up with some additional checkpoints to make sure the workflow isn’t disrupted. Let’s figure this out.”

Role Power: “If you turn in sloppy work like this again, I’m moving you back down from Executive to Assistant. Unacceptable.”

Relationship Power: “Your last three press releases have needed major rewrites. We could get you some coaching. Or – we could have a tough conversation about whether I made a mistake in moving you up here. Let’s figure this out.”

Role Power: “Because I’m the boss and I say so.”

Relationship Power: “Because this is part of our common values and we’ve agreed this is how it needs to be done.”

Note that Relationship Power doesn’t lower the standards, but finds a more Cooperative (level 3) approach.

Another way to put it is this: Role Power will get people to do the right thing while they know you’re watching them, but it provokes rebellion and reduces engagement.

Relationship Power results in people doing the right thing all the time, because they are engaged by the mutual respect.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

Ashleigh’s Input – Operating out of home offices instead of traditional cubicle spaces, it would be easy for our relationship to be a cold one, involving loads of role power. I’m thankful Alan takes the relationship power approach, driving both requests for tasks and conflict resolution back to our goals as a team, not just his as the boss.

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