Groundbreaking ideas and research for engaged leaders
Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management Groundbreaking ideas and research for engaged leaders
Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

Power, for All shows us how power works and how you can best use it

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Tiziana Casciaro, Julie Battilana

Regardless of age, race, gender, class or culture, each of us has at one time or another struggled with power. Yet for something so universally sought after and discussed, power often seems elusive to us. Rotman professor Tiziana Casciaro and co-author Julie Battilana make the persuasive argument that each of us may have more power than we realize.

Drawing from their groundbreaking book Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It's Everyone's Business (Simon & Schuster, August 31, 2021, Casciaro and Battilana suggest that the first step to take toward discovering our own untapped potential is to redefine what power means. If power is essentially the ability to influence the behaviour of others, that suggests it's not connected to wealth and status. Which in turn implies that power it's available to everyone. We just need to understand the source of our own influence and how best to use it.

More importantly, their work opens our eyes to how we can redistribute power in a more balanced way.

The book is the culmination of years of research and reflection on power, influence and change. These experts bring their insights on power and relationships to life with engaging stories on how both everyday and renowned leaders took command and inspired change.

Rotman professor Tiziana Casciaro, author of Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It's Everyone's Business (Simon & Schuster, August 31, 2021)

Ultimately, they show that what prevents many people from obtaining power is misunderstanding how it works.

As the authors explain, too many of us subscribe to common fallacies about power — for instance, that it’s something that can be owned or possessed, that it’s reserved for the few at the top and that it’s somehow dirty.

In reality, no person or group can maintain a permanent grip on power; it can and does change hands. And it’s not intrinsically dirty or clean. Instead, it is energy that can be harnessed to achieve anything.

“Ultimately, power comes from control over resources that others value. You have power over someone — and can therefore influence their behaviour — if you have something they need and want, and if they have few alternatives besides you to get it,” explains Casciaro. “Since people value many kinds of resources, with careful study, most of us can identify those needs and wants and find ways to satisfy them. That’s where power lies.”

In an early chapter, the authors break down the four main strategies for shifting the balance of power in a relationship. You gain power with attraction — when you have something that another person or group values. Power can also shift into your hands with withdrawal (when you reduce your interest in what others have to offer), consolidation (when you’re the main source for a desired resource, so that others have limited alternatives) and expansion (when you find other options and are no longer tied to dealing with a specific person or group).

In later chapters, the authors show readers how to apply this thinking in the workplace with power mapping. By constructing networks based on a coworker’s influence and relationships with others, practitioners can get a better handle on the informal power structures at play and how to build relationships with the range of colleagues they deal with.

Beyond the workplace, the authors explain how we can enact change on a broader scale. By looking back at how recent movements — such as Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter — unfolded, it becomes clear that although social media and technology helped bring citizens together, these movements acquired power by agitating, innovating and orchestrating collective action.

Casciaro and Battilana close the book with an important call to action. As we come out of this global pandemic — which has uncovered undeniable disparities in power, wealth and access to opportunities — and look to rebuild, all of us bear some responsibility to ensure that power is rebalanced in our society.

“We must understand, build, and use our power, both individually and as a collective of citizens, to ensure our individual rights and freedoms and to fight unjust power hierarchies,” the authors say. “This requires each one of us to recognize that power is everyone’s business.”

Written by Rebecca Cheung and Stephen Watt

Tiziana Casciaro is a professor of organizational behaviour at the Rotman School of Management and holds the Jim Fisher professorship in leadership development at the University of Toronto. Her most recent book co-authored with Julie Battilana, is Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It's Everyone's Business (Simon & Schuster, 2021). 
Julie Battilana is the Joseph C. Wilson professor of business administration in the organizational behavior unit at Harvard Business School and the Alan L. Gleitsman professor of social innovation at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she is also the founder and faculty chair of the Social Innovation and Change Initiative. She’s also a cofounder of the Democratizing Work global initiative. A native of France, Battilana lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.