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Influencing Others to Act: The Art and Practice of Leadership

Monty Fleenor

Boise State University

Table of Contents

Table of Contents. 2

Figures and Tables. 2

Abstract 3

Introduction. 4

Agency, Efficacy, Power, and Control. 5

Human Agency & Personal efficacy. 5

Power, Politics and Control 7

Management, Leadership and Change. 9

Level 5 leadership: Jim Collins. 11

Leadership in the Learning Organization: Peter Senge. 13

Leadership and Self Deception: The Arbinger Institute. 15

Conclusion. 17

References. 19


Figures and Tables


Figure 1: Coercive Power Cycle. 9

Table 1: Collins’ Five Level Hierarchy. 11

Table 2: Seven Steps Leading to “In-the-Box” Thinking. 15


In a wide sense, influencing others to act is central to the notion of leadership. In this paper I will consider how influencing others to act is achieved through leadership.  The first section presents some foundational ideas that underpin the notion of influence.  The majority of the paper reflects on how the influencing of others is achieved through three different leadership models and how these models are consistent with the tenets of HPT.  In the final section, I will attempt to reveal common themes that run through the previously discussed leadership models that provide for what I believe should be features of any leadership model adopted by HPT professionals.


Influencing Others to Act: The Art and Practice of Leadership


            I remember hearing the expression “You can lead a buffalo anywhere it wants to go”.  If this is true, then it seems that one method of influencing an other to act is to make it so the “buffalo” wants to go “there”.

Consider the following “buffalo” scenario:  Suppose I want the buffalo to walk into an enclosed area some thirty feet to the right.  One way perhaps is to provide a better environment in the enclosed area, such as better food, more water, or have another buffalo already in the enclosure.  Any reasonably intelligent buffalo would readily choose a better environment and walk into the enclosure.  Work with me here, it is an analogy.

Another alternative may be to set a fire all around the buffalo except for a path that leads into the enclosure.  Certainly the buffalo would make haste to the enclosure.  Either of the above approaches may influence the buffalo to act, i.e., go into the enclosure.  In the second approach however, it is probably more likely that the buffalo wants to go into the enclosure only derivatively.  Actually it wants to get away from the fire. 

If the buffalo analogy generalizes to people, and I for one believe it does, then what strikes me about it is that it is ethically neutral.  Although either of the above approaches may be sufficient or perhaps even necessary in our buffalo example, influencing humans to act is much more complex and I claim should not be ethically neutral.

Two threads that run throughout this paper are worth mentioning.  First, it seems to me that the notion of influencing others to act suggests that regardless of what current behavior (or lack thereof) is being exhibited by the “other”, there exists a desire for different behavior and after all that is the force behind the “to act”.  If this notion is accurate, it seems that we could adopt some aspects of an ADDIE[1] type model when considering influencing others to act. 

There certainly is a desired state; otherwise there is no sense to the notion of “to act”.  And clearly there is a current state; it is whatever the other person is or is not doing.  So a gap exits.  The cause of the gap is worth analyzing, since in general terms it provides a reason for the gap and a basis for closing it.  As with other performance problems or opportunities, the cause (reason) for the gap sheds light on possible interventions.  In this case, it is through leadership that the gap is closed.

I am not suggesting that each time you attempt to influence another person you explicitly should perform a gap or causal analysis.  However, it may be that people who are successful at influencing others, do some sort of reflection, which could be cashed out as a type of analysis and that act may provide some insight into why they are successful.  

The second thread may at first blush not seem apparent: the notion of influencing others to act is not only about the other people.  The sense in which this paper discusses ‘influence’ includes self reflection and personal motivation.  It may be that one of the more powerful ways to influence others to act is to effect a personal change.  However, before any discussion of “influencing others” in the above sense can fruitfully take place, some foundational discussion is in order.

Agency, Efficacy, Power, and Control.

Human Agency & Personal efficacy[2] 

            Spitzer (1999, p. 178) remarked, “It has been said that people don’t resist change, they resist being changed”.  What is it that causes people to resist external but not internal change?  The point Spitzer seems to be making is that people want some sense of control in their lives.  Now the question is why do we want control?  To which the answer seems to be the recognition, albeit unconscious, that we are agents.  In the widest sense “to be an agent is to influence intentionally one’s functioning and life circumstances (Bandura, 2002, p. 270).  In other words it is the “capacity for willed (voluntary) action” (Marshall, 1994, p. 7).  So as agents each of us want to exercise our agency in that we do not want to have decisions forced upon us. Think back to the buffalo example…”anywhere it wants to go”.  As a foundation then, we can set the stage for influence through human agency. That is to say, by allowing people to change and not by trying to change people. 

Bandura (2002, p. 270) notes:

Among the mechanisms of human agency none is more central or pervasive than beliefs of personal efficacy (Bandura, 1997).  Whatever other factors serve as guide and motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to produce desired effects by one’s actions; otherwise one has little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties.


If Bandura is correct, then we, as agents, rely on our personal efficacy as a basis for motivation and incentive.  In the same article Bandura (2002, p. 273) asserts this stronger claim:

Personal efficacy is valued, not because of reverence for individualism, but because a strong sense of personal efficacy is vital for success regardless of whether it is achieved individually or by group members putting their personal capabilities to the best collective use.


Considering the force that personal efficacy plays, it seems that one powerful yet collaborative method to influence others to act is through a means whereby an individual’s personal efficacy is improved.  If influence is couched in an ADDIE type model, considering personal efficacy may be useful in the causal analysis in helping to explain difficulties in the process of influencing others to act.  As Bandura remarked, personal efficacy has to do with the belief that we “…have the power…” yet there are times when the amount of power we have varies greatly.

Power, Politics and Control

            According to Powers (1999), the notion of power “…is the ability to influence or even control behavior”.  Powers, citing Kanter (1997), regards power as “…the capacity to mobilize resources and people to get things done”.  Power (1999) continues, “…to possess influence is to have power, and politics is the use of power”.  The resulting position is that Powers seem to cash out the notion of power as a political relationship between a two or more persons in which one person is exerting some sense of influence in an effort to mobilize the other person(s) to get something done.

Consider the following example.  An HPT practitioner in an authority role is instructed to get a team to embark on a new initiative and you are meeting some strong resistance thereby finding it extremely difficult to implement the initiative.  Sadly this difficulty caused the HPTer to resort to more severe and direct forms of influence, viz., an overt show of power and control, without considering the cause of the resistance.  The initiative stalled and the HPT practitioner was replaced.  In this example, it was later learned that the cause of the resistance was mainly due to certain team members lacking, the requisite personal efficacy and overt “power plays” were not the intervention of choice. This practice of intervention without analysis is like throwing darts in the dark.  You may hit the target, but it has nothing to do with knowledge, skill or ability.  And dart throwing is certainly not a tactic of skilled HPT professionals.  However, the darts approach is not without precedence.

In 1993, Koslowsky and Schwarzwald conducted a role-play study using French and Raven’s typology[3], a sixfold categorization of power tactics used for gaining compliance in conflict situations.  In general their research indicated that the use of power seemed to be “situationally contingent and content specific” (Koslowsky and Schwarzwald, 1993, p. 140).  Continuing, “In the work setting, supervisors rarely used expertise in conflict situations, but took advantage of the other available tactics for gaining compliance” (Koslowsky and Schwarzwald, 1993, p. 140).  For the men in supervisory roles, the research results were even more distressing:

Males tended to use stronger tactics (such as personal and impersonal coercion, and different expressions of legitimate power) as their satisfaction with their relationship decreased, whereas females remained more consistent (Koslowsky and Schwarzwald, 1993, p. 141).


This research seems to suggest that as long as the “buffalo” is going where I want it to go, things are fine. However, in the event of some conflict, I will exert my will, through whatever power tactics are available to me.  Even more worrying is that if I am in a position of power and thus influence, such as a supervisor, and a conflict arises, I would tend not to persuade through expertise, but to use “personal and impersonal coercion”.          It also seems clear that if I resort to coercion, I could be directly affronting the other person’s agency, thereby potentially causing the following dangerous cycle.






Figure 1: Coercive Power Cycle

It is equally possible that the perceived attack on personal agency will negatively affect the subordinate’s personal efficacy, causing even more difficulties.  Now, in addition to resistance the supervisor may be faced with an individual who no longer believes in himself, which also increases the likelihood of making things worse.  This interplay among agency, efficacy, power and control are not to be underestimated.

Management, Leadership and Change

Tosti and Jackson (1999) discussed influencing others to act through the notion of leadership, teamwork and partnering.  And it is where leadership “involves influencing the performance of individuals or groups from a position of authority” (Tosti and Jackson, 1999, p.761) that I wish to continue the discussion on influencing others to act.

Often leadership is subsumed in the notion of management.  Although this may be the ideal, the assumption that a manager is a leader is potentially dangerous.  Dormant (1999) citing Kotter (1990) discriminates leadership from management in terms of goals: “[M]anagers aim for predicable goals…leaders aim for change” (Dormant, 1999, p. 252).

Since HPT is results oriented, it initially would seem that aiming for predictable goals would be a satisfactory outcome for the HPT professional.  After all, there is exemplary performance and the actual performance.  The variance between the two (the gap) is analyzed for causes.  Interventions are developed the goals of which are to close the gap. And in that sense it seems that there interventions are predictable goals.  Yet, if Kotter is accurate HPT professionals who also want to be leaders must do more than close the gap; they must aim for change.

However, there may not be a univocal sense of the word “change”.  Kotter did not explicitly state anything about what kind of change or who should do the changing.  I propose it is just this equivocal sense of “change” that makes for a successful leader.  In one sense of “change” the leader influences others to act and thereby effects change.  In the other sense, the leader effects change in him/herself or others and thereby influences others to act.  The successful leader, by my lights, is one who aims for change while at the same time knows when to use each sense of the word “change”.

Tosti and Jackson (1999) assert that HPT should take a functional approach to the discussion of leadership.

Leadership, teamwork and partnering have been analyzed, discussed and described in many ways:  in terms of personality traits, skill requirements, impact on others, stylistic preferences or some combination of these.  HPT takes a functional approach, or performance-based, approach to this analysis and description.  Instead of asking what good leaders, team members, and partners are like, HPT asks what purposes they accomplish and how.


In agreement with Tosti and Jackson, HPT is certainly performance-based, and in that sense asking “what purposes [leaders] accomplish and how” is important.  Yet as the Koslowsky and Schwarzwald study suggests, when conflicts arise, people in authority may resort to coercive means which may exacerbate the conflict.  Because of this opportunity for abuse of power, there seems to be some ethical qualities exhibited by successful leaders that I believe play an important role in how they accomplish their purposes and that seems worth exploring. 

Level 5 leadership: Jim Collins

In “Good to Great”, Jim Collins (2001) advances the notion of Level 5 leadership.  This leadership style is consistent with HPT in the sense that the very notion of a Level 5 leader is results based. As explicitly stated by Collins: “…Level 5 is an empirical finding, not an ideological one” (Collins, 2001, p.22).  The Level 5 leader emerged from the data collected in a five year study of over 1435 companies that were in the Fortune 500 from 1985 through 2000.  Collins himself told his research staff that leadership was not to be considered a criterion for great companies (Collins, 2001).  He was wrong.

From his research Collins developed a five-level inclusive hierarchy of types of leaders, with Level 5 being the pinnacle.  Table 1 shows the five levels (Collins, 2001, p.20).

Table 1: Collins’ Five-Level Hierarchy


Type of Leader


Level 5

Level 5 Executive

Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

Level 4

Effective Leader

Catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.

Level 3

Competent Manager

Organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.

Level 2

Contributing Team Member

Contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.

Level 1

Capable Individual

Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits.


Although his discussion centers on the organization in general, it seems to me that the characteristics of a Level 5 leader apply whether your influence is as leader, team member or partner involved in one-on-one interactions or teamwork.

“Humility + will = Level 5” (Collins, 2001, p.22) is the simple formula for Level 5 leadership.  However, we should not be deceived by the simplicity of the formula.  Although 100 percent of the companies that made the leap from good to great during the 15 year time frame for Collins’ study had Level 5 leaders, that percentage represents only 11 companies out of a possible 1435 companies that were in the Fortune 500 during that period of time (Collins, 2001).

            Collins remarked that he was struck by how level 5 leaders did not talk about themselves, what he called a “compelling modesty…never wanting to be larger-than-life heroes….They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results” (Collins, 2001, pp 27 - 28).  The Level 5 leader however, is more than humility.

Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.  It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest.  Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves (Collins, 2001, p.21).


The Level 5 leader is “infected with an incurable need to produce results (Collins, 2001, p. 30)

Yet the results are for more than personal ego.  It seems reasonable that “institution” in the above quote could equally be changed to “team” or “partner” and the same Level 5 leader would result. It is because the Level 5 leader thinks of the greater cause – the vision and mission.  Notice how Level 5 leadership is consistent with HPT, in the sense that the Level 5 leader is aligned with the overall strategy, i.e. the mission, vision and values.

            Central to a Level 5 leader is what Collins called the window and the mirror:

Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck).  At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly (Collins, 2001, p. 35).


Once again notice the humility of the Level 5 leader for himself.  Also notice that giving credit to others improves their personal efficacy.

Considering so few Level 5 leaders found in the study, and their paradoxical nature can Level 5 leaders be cultivated?  The answer is yes.  Collins remarks that “potential Level 5 leaders are prevalent in society….Look for situations where extraordinary results exist but where no individual steps forth to claim excess success.  You will likely find a potential Level 5 leader at work” (Collins, 2001, p. 37).

Leadership in the Learning Organization: Peter Senge

            In 1990 Peter Senge popularized the notion of the “learning organization” in his book, Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.  He described the disciplines of the learning organization as: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision and team learning (Senge, 1990, pp. 6 – 10) and all of these disciplines are embraced by a learning organization’s leader.  According to Senge (1990, p 340) “Our traditional views of leaders…are deeply rooted in an individualistic and nonsystemic worldview”.  He continues, “The new view of leadership in learning organizations centers on subtler and more important tasks. “In a learning organization, leaders are designers, stewards, and teachers” (Senge, 1990, p 340). 

            Senge asks the question “Imagine that your organization is an ocean liner, and that you are ‘the leader.’  What is your role?” (Senge, 1990, p. 341).  The answers to this question ranges from captain to social director.  He concludes that the overlooked role is that of designer.  A leader as designer”, as opposed to “leader as hero”, designs policies, strategies and systems preventing inconsistencies in values and visions (Senge, 1990).

“Design is, by its nature an integrative science because design requires making something work in practice....The essence of design is seeing how the parts fit together to perform as a whole” (Senge 1990, p. 342). Notice the familiar tenets of HPT.  A “leader as designer” is results oriented, expressed as “making something work in practice” and uses a systems approach as demonstrated in the phrase, “seeing how parts fit together to perform as a whole”. 

Senge sums up the “leader as designer” with “…the leader’s task is designing the learning processes whereby people throughout the organization can deal productively with the critical issues they face, and develop their mastery in the learning disciplines” (Senge, 1990, p. 345).  Once again hear the sentiment of helping others to use their own human agency and through mastery personal efficacy will improve.

The “leader as steward” involves vision and “…a deep story or sense of purpose that lay behind his vision…the purpose story…a larger ‘pattern of becoming’ that gives unique meaning to his personal aspirations and his hopes for the organization” (Senge, 1990, p. 345).  Senge continues that the purpose story provides “an overarching explanation of why [the leaders] do what they do, how the organization needs to evolve, and how that larger explanation is part of something larger” (Senge, 1990, p. 346).  “It is both personal and universal” (Senge, 1990, p. 346) and “places his organization’s purpose, its reason for being, within a context [that] goes beyond the organization itself to humankind more broadly (Senge, 1990, p. 346).

This sense of personal yet universal and going beyond the organizational boundaries to humankind is consistent with Kaufman’s Organizational Elements Model (OEM).  The outcome, i.e. mega results, in the OEM is societal impact.  When acting as steward and attentive to outcomes as defined by Kaufman, HPT professionals are aware of the effects their leadership have in and for society.

“‘Leader[s] as teacher’…help people throughout the organization develop systemic understandings… [and]…have the ability to conceptualize their strategic insights so that they become public knowledge, open to challenge and further improvement” (Senge, 1990, p. 356).  Senge explains that leaders through systemic understanding in a sense define realities, and therefore, he expresses an important caveat.  Leaders must be careful not to become “‘true believers’ rather than learners (Senge, 1990 p. 356). 

It seems that Senge is saying that leaders as teachers continue to learn from their results and stay true to the facts and the data.  They built trust through teaching and at the same time continue to learn.

Even if a company does not adopt the disciplines of a learning organization, it seems that some of Senge’s concepts for leadership in the learning organization can be embraced by individuals in more traditionally organized companies.

Leadership and Self Deception: The Arbinger Institute

The Arbinger Institute (2000) advances the notion that leaders act “outside the box”.  Consistent with the results focused HPT profession, “[out-of-the-box leaders] produce.  And they inspire those around them to do the same (The Arbinger Institute, 2000, p 28).”  So what is the box and what does it mean to be either in it or out of it?

The box is self-deception; a metaphor for how we resist others and it is through acts of self-betrayal that we get into the box (The Arbinger Institute, 2000).  Table 2 (The Arbinger Institute, 2000, p.102) shows the how it works.

Table 2: Seven Steps Leading to “In-the-Box” Thinking




An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another is called an act of self-betrayal.


When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal.


When I see a self-justifying world, my reality becomes distorted.


So – when I betray myself I enter the box.


Over time, certain boxes become characteristics of me, and I carry them with me.


By being in the box, I provoke others to be in the box.


In the box, we invite mutual mistreatment and obtain mutual justification.  We collude in giving other reasons to stay in the box.


So it seems that the way into the box is to see others as means to an end and not as ends in themselves.  When others are seen as means we form expectations about how they should act, and create self-justifying images for the reasons they act as they do.  We create our own reality about other people and in doing so we in effect resist their humanity, their human agency.  According to The Arbinger Institute (2001, p.136) once in the box, none of the following work:

·        Trying to change others

·        Doing one’s best to “cope” with others

·        Leaving

·        Communicating

·        Implementing new skills or techniques

·        Changing one’s own behavior


In fact, The Arbinger Institute (2000) claims that you cannot get out of the box from any behavior that takes place from within the box.  So how is it then we get out of the box? 

As a person we have a basic obligation to treat others also as persons and to see them for what they are (The Arbinger Institute, 2000).  In that moment, we quit resisting them and are liberated from the self-justifying thoughts and feelings – and that frees us from being in the box.  The Arbinger Institute (2000, p. 166) have some suggestions for living outside of the box.

·        Self-betrayal leads to self-deception and “the box.”

·        When you’re in the box, you can’t focus on results.

·        Your influence and success will depend on being out of the box.

·        You get out of the box as you cease resisting people

·        Don’t try to be perfect.  Do try to be better.

·        Don’t use the vocabulary – “the box” and so on – with people who don’t already    know it.  Do use the principles in your own life.

·        Don’t look for others’ boxes.  Do look for your own.

·        Don’t accuse others of being in the box.  Do try to stay out of the box yourself.

·        Don’t give up on yourself when you discover you’ve been in the box.  Do keep trying.

·        Don’t deny you’ve been in the box when you have been.  Do apologize, then just keep marching forward, trying to be more helpful to others in the future.

·        Don’t focus on what others are doing wrong.  Do focus on what you can do right to help.

·        Don’t worry whether others are helping you.  Do worry whether you are helping others.


It seems that all of the above suggestions would help any HPT professional be a better leader.  However, the one of singular importance for the HPT professional is – “when you are in the box, you can’t focus on results.”  HPT is clearly results oriented as evidenced by the fact that focusing on results is on of the International Society of Performance Improvement’s (ISPI) performance standards, and ISPI is a professional organization in which many HPT professionals hold membership.  Yet even if the notion of “the box” does not ring true, it may be worth the effort to consider some of The Arbinger Institute’s ideas if as an HPT professional you wish to focus on results.


As previously discussed, in the widest sense, the notion of influencing others is ethically neutral and ranges from mental or physical threats and bribery at one extreme to cooperative partnership and humility on the other.  Leaders’ personal moral philosophies and the relationship between them and those whose behavior they want to influence play a major role in how they choose to influence. Equally important is the fact that the people a leader wants to influence are governed by their own moral philosophy, personal efficacy and beliefs.  Perhaps successful leadership is anything but ethically neutral.  It may be that successful leaders confront ethics head on.  In fact successful leadership may flourish when the notions of human agency and personal efficacy as it relates to power, politics and control, are consciously considered.

This paper has considered three different leadership models: Jim Collin’s level 5 leader, Peter Senge’s leader of the learning organization, and The Arbinger Institute’s leadership out-of-the box.  These three distinct notions of leadership have much in common and various aspects of each can be combined.  As HPT professionals we have many tools in our toolbox.  We learn, apply, analyze and synthesize many models then adapt those aspects that best fit the needs of the situation, thereby creating our own. 

Consider Senge’s leader as designer, steward and teacher and his caveat concerning becoming “true believer” as opposed to learner.  Think of Collins’ Level 5 leader as the combination of humility and will and his window and the mirror example for credit and blame.  Finally in The Arbinger Institutes’ terms, are we in or out of the box with other people in our lives?

The significant themes of these three leadership models provide what I believe to be tenets that should underpin leadership in general.  A successful leader is one who: 

·        Recognizes and accepts the ethical responsibility that encompasses leadership.

·        Engages first in personal reflection (influences him/herself).

·        Leads by example.

·        Is results oriented.

·        Treats other people as ends in themselves and not as means to an end.


Through our interventions, we as HPT professionals are constantly influencing others to act; we are leaders and we should recognize it and accept it.  And as leaders, it is important to remember as we design and develop performance-based interventions that the “H” in HPT stands for “Human”.


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The Arbinger Institute (2000). Leadership and self-deception: Getting out of the box. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.


[1] The sense in which I am using “ADDIE” is as an umbrella term and should not be construed as any one particular model.

[2] Bandura (1994) defines self-efficacy as “…peoples beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives”.

[3] Kowslowski and Schwarzwald (1993) citing (Cobb, 1980; Kabanoff, 1985; Manz & Goia, 1983) remarks that the Raven and French typology has been widely applied in management and organizations. Its six categories of power are: coercive, reward, legitimate, expert, referent and informational.