Power Versus Influence: What’s The Difference And Why Does It Matter?

How to 'earn the right' to change someone's mind.

Share this article

Share this article

How to 'earn the right' to change someone's mind.


Power Versus Influence: What’s The Difference And Why Does It Matter?

How to 'earn the right' to change someone's mind.

Share this article

A number of years ago I was asked if I could deliver a series of programmes to one of the UK’s largest police services on the topic of Power & Influence.

Of course I said yes, and then dived deep into researching the topic. I had my own ideas on it, but wanted to back up, or challenge, my thinking to be able to deliver a programme that made a difference.

What I found blew me away. It was a massive “aha” moment not just for my work but in my life too; as a parent of teenagers, a partner, a friend, a rugby coach - all aspects of my life.

This discovery warranted its own chapter in my book on Compassionate Leadership and its own module in my online Academy. It is brilliant, but, it’s not new! At all!

French & Raven, two social scientists, wrote a paper in 1959 that has not been bettered by anyone since. The basic premise of their research is; power is potential influence & influence is kinetic power.”

In other words, you cannot influence, unless you have a base of power, and It is the people that you are trying to influence who actually give you the base of power”.

Wow. That is chunky stuff and pretty challenging! Stick with me, hold your disbelief. Challenge your perception on what you believe the words “power” and “influence” might historically mean to you. They don’t!

French & Raven found that there are 6 bases of power - Reward & Coercion, Expert, Referent, Information and Legitimacy.

Reward & Coercion

The first two power-bases of “Reward” and “Coercion go hand in hand. These about being able to bestow a “positive” or “negative” outcome on the person you are trying to influence.

“Do this and I’ll give you an ice cream,”


“Do that and I’ll thump you!”

You will do it, but reluctantly, so not great power-bases to have - as it only leads to compliance


The Expert power-base is based on your belief that I actually know what I’m talking about. If you “believe” that I’m an expert then you’ll listen and be influenced. Be careful with striving for this power-base though.

If a better expert than me walks through the door, you would start to listen to them not me - in other words you would transfer the expert power-base away from me.


The Referent power base is about how you identify with a leader. Do we share the same values and beliefs? Is there something aspirational that you see in me?

I call this the “Beckham power-base”; if you follow David Beckham then you might start to wear a sarong and name your children based on where they were conceived! This leads to commitment – people are buying into the identity of the leader and aspiring to be like them.


Now this one is subtly different, as the belief isn’t in the leader but in the validity and relevance of information the leader holds – so the power lies with the information not the person.

For instance, if I am holding a picture of you with a donkey and a watermelon then that will give me a certain power I can hold over you in terms of how I might use this information.

I can then use this power base to influence your actions (reluctantly). However, if I pass the picture on to someone else, you will transfer the power base from me to the other person. The power sits with the picture, not me! (It’s OK, it was just a shopping trip in Crete)!


Now this is the baby. If you have a belief that I have a legitimate right to influence you, then influence I shall. This is the holy-grail of power-bases but takes a big effort to achieve. It’s about trust and self-interest.

If you trust me and know deep down that I have your best interests at heart, you will be only too happy to let me influence you. You will be committed to being influenced; this is the real McCoy.

Remember, you have to earn the power-base that will allow you to influence and you earn it from the person you are hoping to influence. Beware of falling back to the old reward or coercion…

A fun example. You are struggling with your teenager. They just won’t go along with anything you say. So, let’s check what power-base they have given you.

Expert? No way, they and their teenage mates know far more than you (apparently!)

Referent? There is no way they want to be like you!!

Legitimate? Er, no. Back off grandpa!

So what do we do? We fall back on reward and coercion.

“If you don’t stop that I’ll… (insert threat)”

“Please, if you stop, I will … (insert bribe)”!

See what I mean?

To reiterate, this whole concept is so strong, that if you’re struggling to influence somebody, stop and think. What power-base have they given me? If they havent given you a power-base then you cannot influence them, and you are going to have to work to “earn” the power-base that will allow you to influence.

Now, go and earn that power-base of influence. Enjoy.

Manley Hopkinson is the founder of renowned leadership consultancy Manley Talks LTD and The Compassionate Leadership Academy, author of Compassionate Leadership and a sought-after keynote speaker.

Related Articles
Get news to your inbox
Trending articles on Opinions

Power Versus Influence: What’s The Difference And Why Does It Matter?

Share this article