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leadersEvery year, Forbes magazine releases yet another list. On one particular annual list are the names of “The World’s Most Powerful People” for that year. The list is restricted to 71 individuals annually — Forbes states this number represents a slot for the 100 million people alive today. Candidates are chosen based on four criteria — what Forbes calls its “four dimensions of power.” With these dimensions, the magazine’s judges recognize that access to or control over finances alone does not constitute true power. Rather, it is at the intersection of money and three other dynamic attributes that tangible, daily power resides. This can be a fascinating topic of conversation for your next leadership meeting or retreat, convention, conference or management training.

4 Dimensions

The four dimensions of power that Forbes assesses in selecting its candidates are as follows. If you decide to hire business speakers to address these topics for your group, it can be helpful to provide this overview as an example of the concepts you would like addressed during the presentation.

  • Power head count. How many people does the individual have power over?
  • Financial scope of power. How much financial resources does the individual have control over (personally, professionally or both)?
  • Power spheres. How many different spheres does the individual exert his or her influence?
  • Exertion of power. Is the individual actively exerting his or her power — and if so, in what way?

Power Head Count

The goal is to assess candidates from the perspective of how many people their power affects. Do they control a country, a government department or a social media empire? How many people wake up each morning to potentially discover the actions of an individual have affected their lives in ways they cannot control? Here are some people who have scored high in this aspect in past years:

  • President Barack Obama. The American President leads nearly 315 million citizens.
  • Pope Benedict XVI. The retired pope presided over more than a billion believers.
  • Michael Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart. Mr. Duke employs more than two million workers.

Financial Scope of Power

Forbes examines not power over people, but power over finances in this attribute; in short, how much is the individual’s personal or professional net worth (or both)? Here are some examples of past Forbes high-scorers:

  • Carlos Slim Helu. Mr. Helu is the richest man in the world — for four years running.
  • King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud. The Saudi king controls an estimated 20 percent of global oil reserves.
  • Tim Cook. Steve Jobs’ successor as the CEO of Apple Inc. is reputed to preside over the wealthiest company worldwide. Apple is worth more than $623 billion.

Power Spheres

In terms of power spheres, Forbes examines how many powerful “hats” each candidate wears. Here are some notable recent high scorers:

  • Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The New York mayor wears a powerful politician hat, a billionaire hat, a media mogul hat and a philanthropy hat.
  • Reid Hoffman. Mr. Hoffman wears his LinkedIn founder hat and his Silicon Valley connections hat (he is said to be more connected in this lucrative hotspot than any other businessperson).
  • Angela Merkel. The chancellor of Germany wears her multiple hats as politician, leader of the European Union and leading architect for resolution of the European debt crisis, among others.

Exertion of Power

Finally, Forbes examines how each candidate uses his or her power. Top-ranking individuals in past years include these powerful people:

  • Mark Zuckerberg. The founder and CEO of Facebook is a hands-on leader who presides over a group of employees that includes his closest friends. He is in the office most days, working alongside his team.
  • Vladimir Putin. The Russian President has made a name for himself with swift and decisive resolutions — from divorcing his wife to jailing protesters, to shutting down newspapers that violate his personal privacy.
  • Dilma Rousseff. The President of Brazil has taken a firm and decisive stand on bolstering her struggling country’s economy through encouraging entrepreneurship — with very positive results.

Learning more about each of these four dimensions of power can be an insightful exercise for employees at all levels of your company.

Image by MTAPhotos from Flickr’s Creative Commons

About the Author: Carol Cheng has worked as an economic consultant, journalist and (most recently) as an author. She is working on a project delving into how money and power intersect in some of the world’s most prominent leaders.


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