Sources of Personal Power

In the middle-grade novel Power Play Mako sparks a school-wide effort to curb bullying. and in the process discovers how the quest to gain personal power is at the root of most bullying. The bully gains power by taking it away the person being bullied. This practice continues beyond school and into the workplace. Sometimes the bully is fully aware of what he or she is doing, but often it is an unconscious habit developed over a lifetime of bad behavior that is often rewarded by increasing influence, attention and even promotion. In the book, Mako develops a model that outlines several different paths to gaining power.

The two most common ways to gain power are positional or coersive. A boss is powerful because of his official position in an organization; he can require an employee to work every Saturday, even if the employee doesn’t want to, because a boss can fire a disobedient employee. An example of the coercive approach is the coworker who says she will make you look bad at work unless you do half of her work, in addition to your own.  Mako’s model suggests that people can also be powerful by being attractive and/or charming. These are the people who fascinate us with great stories or good looks or clever jokes. Power can also be gained from special knowledge or skills. The star basketball player is an obvious example but another is the girl who can make a purse and a prom dress from duct tape or the boy who can do complex mathematical equations in his head. If you are an electrical engineer who understands the behavior of electricity in a thunderstorm you will be sought out (and have tremendous power and influence) before and after big thunderstorms.

Here’s a summary of Mako’s model for the Sources of Personal Power in a school setting:

TYPE OF POWER                 HOW TO GET IT                              EXAMPLES

BOSSES From job, assignment, political office, or position School principal, student body president, School Board members, team captains for sports,
CHARMERS From appearance, personality, sense of humor, or ability to charm people Patty Jenkins (girl I have a crush on), Ms. Taylor, Homecoming Queen and King, that funny kid who sits behind me in History
STARS From knowledge, education, skill, or special abilities Mr. Wilkes (great history teacher who knows everything), star athletes, school chess champion, top cheerleaders
BULLDOZERS From ability to scare, punish, coerce or hurt others School bullies, one of the Vice Principals, Mom (sometimes), mean girls
ANGELS From empathy and consideration for others, good deeds, community service The nice girl, helpful teacher, Dr. Cassidy (who lectures us on self-esteem)


This was adapted from a model used in industrial psychology to explain to employees how others gain power. It has been widely used because adults are always seeking ways to increase their own power at work.


2 thoughts on “Sources of Personal Power

  1. I (Jane) think it was really cool in “Power Play” how a sailing trip with the bully and the victim on board gave the bully a different experience about life and friendship when the bully encounters a potentially life-threatening problem! I don’t want to give away the outcome or even do it with a “spoiler alert” because it’s nice to read what happened and experience it yourself. It shows that you have to know the person himself (or herself) and not jump to conclusions about anybody. Just knowing somebody personally will make inroads into the bullying problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *