Understanding Power vs. Influence: Which One Is The Stronger Tool?

What makes a woman powerful?
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Cardi B., Janet Mock, and Maxine Waters were included in Time’s 2018 Most Influential People list; and Oprah, Condoleeza Rice, and Indra Nooyi reigned supreme on this year’s Forbes Most Powerful Women list.

What makes these women influential? What makes them powerful? What’s the difference? Let’s discuss. 

Alexa, what is power?

No, I’m not referring to the show (plot twist: I’ve never seen it!). The word power comes from the Latin word meaning “be able.” It is the capacity or ability to direct the behavior of others or the course of events; the possession of control or authority over others. In other words, power is the ability to get ish done.

Power versus Influence - Which tool is better for you

Influence, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word meaning “to flow in.” It is the act of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force; the capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.

Where power forces, influence guides.

Now, there are a number of reasons why some folks may value power over influence. Being powerful means you’re a boss, and being a boss certainly has its perks. You are the one in charge; you make the rules, get the title, and secure the bag — all of the things that make the idea of power so attractive. While the source of your power may vary depending on the situation and context, what often defines you as a powerful person is what you do with that power.

Keep in mind there are obvious consequences to any use of power, for example accountability (everybody wants to be in charge until something goes wrong and someone needs to take the blame) or focusing on the ego-centric or “control” aspect of power, i.e. the illusion of being able to tell others what to do–all of which can lead to folks “going Killmonger” (in this instance, a much less extreme version where you leave the situation rather than staying in the “bondage” of someone else’s exercise of power).

Remember when your fave posted a video of that new makeup line and you bought it just off the faith of the likes? That’s influence. The source of your influence lies on your capacity to network, build relationships, and leverage your social capital — all while remaining authentic to your true self. It’s camaraderie, it’s mentorship, it’s sisterhood. In its best form, influence is leading by example. Being able to cultivate a following because of who you are, the way you carry yourself, the words that you say, and the results of your actions is not something to be taken for granted. Arguably there is more power in moving to the beat of your own drum and having others follow your lead of their own free will, rather than trying to force folks to do the same. Think about that.


You don’t necessarily need to pick one over the other. Recognizing power and influence are equally important in this game called life. I do encourage you to be aware when they come into play in your life. Would you rather be a well-manicured iron fist in a velvet glove? Or the subtle nudge in the right direction?

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