Referent power: Influence has limits, special talent has none

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

NINETY percent of all politics is about making a decision on who to blame. To avoid the blaming game, you have to influence others to get what you want, so that they would blame themselves in the end. To do it, you can begin focusing on several vital personal strategies. There is no limit to it except when it borders on illegality, immorality, or both.

Depending on the situation, you assess your readiness to accept the consequences. Is it worth a try? To minimize the risk, many of us use “referent power,” or the ability to be identified with other people who possess money, power, authority, charisma, interpersonal attractiveness, and all other positive things that you don’t have.

People use referent power to fast-track their career aspirations, get financial incentives, and do other things to influence others. Many people would want to be associated with those with money and every good thing in life, in the hope that they too can reap some rewards out of the relationship.

The only caveat is this: Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are. If your friends are perceived to be thieves, then watch out, because you too may be perceived as a thief. That’s why meritocracy is much better than referent power, seniority, and all other things. You have to gain power, money, and prestige by showing to others what you’ve got, with referent power playing only second fiddle.


It’s about your unique accomplishments and your special talent. It isn’t much about referent power but the things you can do which is difficult for others to duplicate, or if it can be duplicated, a copycat would spend some time before he can master it all. Think of all the things you can do easier, faster, and cheaper. If others can’t do it in the same way, then you become a winner in your category.

If you’re competitive and strong, you attract friends and praises. If you’re weak and lame, you are discarded. That’s how the bee is praised for its honey, while the mosquito is swatted for its malaria.

In breaking out of counter-productiveness and other traps that can reduce you to become a mosquito, you have to be conscious of your personal strengths and weaknesses, inside and outside. Your spouse or your best friend can help you gain the necessary perspective. The best place to start is where you are seated.

Are you happy with your career? Are you getting the income that you desire enough to sustain you and your family? If not, you have to assess your situation and do something revolutionary. Of course, you can start looking for a referent power – or someone who is willing to help you.

If you’re a fresh college graduate, you start looking for a character reference to help you win a job. If you’re gainfully employed, you seek counsel from a mentor to fast-track your career aspiration inside the organization. If you’re a drifter and you’re in the Philippines, you seek a political patron to get you a casual job in a government office, if not get elected after some time.

This reminds me of a story about three famous surgeons who were bragging about their skills. “A man came to me who had his hand cut off from a factory accident,” said one. “Today, that man is a concert violinist.”

“That’s nothing,” said another. “A guy came to me who had his legs cut off. I stitched them back on. Today, that man is a marathon runner.”

“I can top your achievements,” said the third doctor. “One day I came on the scene of a terrible vehicular accident. There was nothing left but the limp body of a bloodied, young man who was projected to be paralyzed for the rest of his life. Today, that man is a congressman.”

A referent power is not necessary for everyone to achieve something. But, a person worth his salt needs to work hard and possess unique talent, like the world-class potent left knocker of Manny Pacquiao. If you have what it takes, then you too can become a referent power of political sycophants and mendicants who will necessarily come to you for help.

The idea of having a referent power can figure out the best course of action for everyone. But it is not necessary. If you want to do trial and error, then so be it. If you don’t want to feel indebted to anyone, then you don’t have to be near a powerful figure.

Fortunately, there is one approach that avoids the problem of being linked to a referent power. And that is simply by asking the question – did you ever stop to think and forget to start all over again?

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com of follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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