Welcome everyone. We are going to talk about what makes a man powerful via an analysis of the Godfather’s power sources.
I’ve recently noticed a few videos that confuse how power and dominance are developed. These videos say power and dominance are primarily built by standing tall, silencing people with simple gestures, pausing when you speak, and other basic actions.
This is very misleading. These actions do increase your power but only in small ways. They will rarely be the primary source of your power. Just look at guys like Elon Musk, who fail many of these so called rules, yet wield immense amounts of influence.
Table of Contents
What makes a man powerful and influential?
A man becomes more powerful when he focuses on developing the 6 sources of power studied by French and Raven. This is the scientific way to developing power. These power sources are called expert power, coercive power, reward power, information power, referent power, and legitimate power. Expert power comes from excelling in your craft. Coercive power comes from the ability to make and carry out threats. Reward power is held by people who give gifts or financial rewards to people who comply. Referent power is power that comes from people liking you. Legitimate power is power drawn from social norms like the need to repay people who assist you.
To answer this question we will first discuss a study by two scientists called John French and Bertram Raven. Their goal was to classify the sources of social power. They originally hypothesized that there were 5 sources of power. But later a sixth was added. This article helps us more clearly understand how humans create power.
Then we will look at Vito Corleone’s transformation from vulnerable immigrant to powerful boss in the Godfather movies. He will help us see how the French and Raven principles can be practically applied in our lives. By investing in the right things, anyone can eliminate powerlessness.
The first source is called expert power. Expert power is the ability to influence people to act because of your superior skills or knowledge in an area. Expert power is held by doctors, lawyers, engineers, and others. So can you only hold expert power if you hold advanced degrees?
One of the earliest scenes, Vito’s whole family is annihilated by the mob boss for not paying tribute. Here Vito experiences true mob brutality. They will kill with no hesitation if you refuse to obey.
Later in the movie he makes it to America, where he comes across another man who appears to be the neighborhood mob boss. But Vito notices a few incongruencies. He can negotiate with this man. People who don’t pay are still alive. The man even occasionally threatens to use the police. These are all behaviors that are vastly different from the mob bosses of his childhood.
However the neighborhood and his friends are intimidated enough to continue paying tribute to this fake mob boss. Vito tells his friends to trust him and he will handle the issue. Vito then assassinates the mob boss. This impressive behavior led to his friends Tessio and Clemenza deciding to work for him. They were only willing to be subservient because of Vito’s superior expert power.
Thus we learn that Vito uses expert power that he was both born with and gained through experience. He was able to understand what others thought, why they acted a certain way, and what their strengths and weaknesses were. He then exploited them.
So how can you build your expert power? A simple method for building expert power is to study people. Understanding what makes people tick is a skill that will follow you regardless of the path you take in life. Where do they get their power from and where are they weak? Becoming an expert with people is a power investment that will always pay dividends.
Another way to increase your expert power is to put yourself in the right type of situation at each step of your career. At the beginning of your career try to work for people who are experts and are on the cutting edge of the field. This would be like working for Google or Facebook if you are a software engineer. This experience allows you to understand how the top 1% of engineers do things.
Then after a few years, when you have learned a majority of their tricks, you would take that experience and put yourself in a situation where you would be the expert. This could mean starting your own consulting for businesses, or joining a smaller company as the in house expert. Your past experience allows you to know the best way to do something, and your present situation as the only expert means that people will listen to your advice. Thus, you invest in power by learning valuable skills from the best. Then you position yourself in a situation where you were the only one with that ability.
So how else does a man become powerful?
The Second source is called coercive power. Coercive power is the ability to influence behavior against the person’s will based on punishment or the threat of punishment. Coercive power often takes the form of threats, shaming, firing people, or violence. So can you only exercise coercive power if you are sizable and intimidating?
One day when Vito comes home from work, his neighbor tosses him a bag of guns, presumably to avoid getting in trouble. Vito stores these weapons and later develops a relationship with the person.
Together, the guns and this relationship form the backbone of the Corleone family’s power. He uses the guns to rob competitors, protect allies, win wars, and make threats. It was because of these guns that he was able to assassinate the neighborhood mob boss.
Interestingly, the Godfather movies are stories of an extremely violent family despite most of them not being physically intimidating. Vito doesn’t start out as an imposing character, but he is able to come across resources that allow him to develop this source of power. Thus his connection to people who have coercive power allows him to draw upon this power source. Remember, the way he killed the neighborhood mob boss is with the gun given to him by a friend.
Keep in mind that Coercive power has to be more subtle nowadays, because of the government’s ability to enforce. While you likely won’t get into fights as an adult, practicing fighting on a weekly basis in a Jiu Jitsu or Boxing class will give you confidence to withstand the typical levels of aggressive behavior.
People will also express their aggression in the form of insults and social games. Improving your ability to shame others, and have good comebacks will allow you to keep the respect of any group you are in if the situation requires. Pay attention to people’s thumbscrews so you can use them if the occasion requires. If whit isn’t your natural gift, watching celebrity roasts. Practice roasting people when you walk down the street in your head.
The key to coercive power in this age is to ask yourself what you would do if someone doesn’t act the way you want. Then develop that resource.
The third source is called reward power. Reward power is the ability to influence behavior by giving or withholding rewards. Examples include gifts, treats, year end bonuses, and more. How rich do you have to be to use reward power?
We see Vito partially use this power to help the old lady who’s landlord was kicking her out of the house. He offers to pay the landlord multiple months ahead of time in exchange for the lady being able to stay in the neighborhood apartment. He also uses this power to pay people to guard his olive oil shipments, family, and other business interests. While he does end up rich, we see Vito giving simple gifts long before he is extremely wealthy.
Reward power can be developed in two ways. Most obviously, reward power comes from having a well paid job. If you aren’t happy with the salary that you make, try a career in sales, engineering, nursing or construction. In sales you can make hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the same with engineers. You can work only a few days a week as a nurse and get paid more than 60% of the population. Even in construction you can make almost a hundred thousand dollars a year by working overtime in dangerous situations.
These jobs will be difficult, but did you expect power to be easy to attain? They will allow you to build your financial assets which will result in you having the ability to reward people for listening to you. Use the money to give meaningful gifts to your friends as rewards.
Starting your own business will also massively increase your reward power. When you own the company, you decide what people are paid, what they get to do, and how they are treated. You can use this power to convince people to act in the way you see fit. If you are struggling to start a business, try working in a service based business for a few years. This could be anything from lawn mowing, to electrician work, to IT security consulting. After you have learned enough, quit and start selling your services on your own.
I can’t stress this enough, starting your own successful business is arguably the most effective way to legally build your power in our society.
So how else does a man become powerful?
The fourth source is called information power. Information power is the ability to influence behavior because of limited information that others want. One example of information power is knowing what your coworkers make. So do you have to be in a leadership position to develop this type of power?
Most of the information power that Vito has is developed behind the scenes, and comes from people that don’t have to report to him. We do see one instance of the method that he uses to develop information power. At the wedding Vito meets with a large man named Luca Bratzi. He asks Luca to spy for him within the other families. Luca is then to relay the information about what they are going to do back to the godfather. While Luca is found out and murdered, we can easily assume that this isn’t the first time Vito has sent a spy to gather information power.
You don’t need to be in a leadership position to obtain and use information power. One way is to be aware of the common prices in the area of business. This includes salaries and going rates for purchasing things. This knowledge will allow you to negotiate more successfully.
Another way to gain information power is to make guesses statements. Guess statements are statements that you think are false. However, you still make the statement to see how the other person reacts. For example you might say to your boss “it’s too bad we aren’t getting a Christmas bonus this year,” in hopes that your boss will correct you or make a face. Fishing for information this way works best when you watch people’s expressions closely and lower their guards.
The fifth source is called referent power. Referent power is the ability to influence behavior because of a feeling of liking or affiliation. We see referent power in successful celebrities and politicians because they convince followers to identify with their image or mission. You’ve probably guessed that you don’t have to be a popular influencer to grow your referent power.
Referent power is developed by embodying and expressing the values of the group. We see the signs of Vito’s referent power at the beginning of the first movie. We see many people gathered to celebrate one of Vito’s children’s weddings. This is evidence of how much people like and feel affiliated with him.
Vito cultivated this power because he has constantly embodied his culture’s values. One value we see is the notion of taking care of kinship and family. (play clips here) He always helps people he considers family and avoids hurting people who he considers his ethnic kin.
You can cultivate referent power with two primary methods. First, learn to build rapport with people. Rapport is built by making the person feel understood and valued. There are many techniques for building rapport but you will have to check out our “how to build rapport in 5 minutes with anyone” page for more detail.
The second method for increasing your referent power is to work on embodying a characteristic that your society values. For some social groups this is strength, for others this is intelligence or whit. Pay attention to common features that the popular people have in your social group. Develop those traits.
The sixth source legitimate power. Legitimate power is the ability to influence behavior because of a moral or social norm. It is one way of a man being powerful. Legitimate power is broken down into power that comes from position (like a job), reciprocity (like gifts), equity (like a social desire), or dependence (like a state of needing something).
Legitimate power is another main power source for Vito. In fact, one of the business deals that forms the center plot for the first movie, is built around the fact that Vito has many connections with influential politicians, lawyers, and policemen.
He built this power by investing in people before they became powerful. For example, Vito might pay for law school for a neighborhood boy. That boy would grow up and eventually move into politics. Then if a law was about to be passed, Vito would simply ask the man to stop it.
The key here is to do favors for ambitious people who show potential, long before they become successful. If you help people who are currently successful, they will think it is part of a current deal or worse, they might think they deserve it just because of who they are. However, if you give an insignificant person a big break, they won’t forget.
Be willing to introduce young up and comers to your network and be willing to give them guidance and insight. This long term investment will help you reap the long term rewards of human being’s need to be reciprocal.
While you can increase your power and dominance by improving things like posture and tone, much of your power will come from improving your career and network. Focus on the major ways of increasing your power before you focus on the smaller optimizations.
How Will You Increase In Power?
We mentioned that Vito seemed to draw his power primarily from coercive, referent, and legitimate forms of power by being willing to be violent, give and repay favors, and use money. That is what makes a man powerful in his situation. So what will you focus on?
If you are currently powerless, it is because you have made poor power investments in the past. You likely focused on improving smaller things like posture and tone to the exclusion of the major sources of power like career and network. Just like in sports, if you are losing or tying in a game of power, it is because you haven’t put in enough work. Fix this by selecting one of the power sources above to improve upon in the coming month.
Select a career where your earnings are uncapped and tied to performance, like sales or entrepreneurship. Focus on improving in that area. As you approach the peak of that power, or are unable to push the envelope any more, consider starting your own business or diversify by working on the other sources of power.
As always, stay tuned for more practical tactics for increasing your personal power.