Abraham Lincoln famously said “…if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”I guess he was talking about Positional Power, which can be given as well as taken away. As the name suggests, Positional Power is the authority which comes from the office or position to which the leader is appointed or elected. Since it is derived from external sources, this type of power is not permanent and can be taken away or lost. Politics and military are lines of work where Positional Power plays a significant role in getting a job or task done.
Personal Power on the other hand comes from within an individual… it is the authority which comes from the personal traits of the leader - like character, knowledge, skill, eloquence and charisma. Since these attributes are internal to the person, this type of power cannot be taken away. Sportspersons and movie stars fall under the category of people who wield an enormous degree of Personal Power over their followers.
Neither type of power is “better” than the other… an effective leader uses both Positional Power and Personal Power judiciously and wisely to acquire and influence followers as well as earn their respect, admiration and loyalty.
Positional Power is used in situations where the leader does not want to encourage a discussion with the followers to arrive at a decision… they are simply “told” what needs to be done. No questions asked! On the other hand, there are also situations where followers have to be “sold” an idea… here the leader uses the charm of his/her Personal Power to accomplish the goal.
No wonder most successful leaders have the decisiveness of an army general as well as the magnetism of a rock star!