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Angela M. Odom

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7 Types of Leadership Power

2019 leadership talk time Feb 12, 2019

What Does Power Mean to You?

Power means many different things to different people. For some, power is seen as corrupt. For others, the more power they have, the more successful they feel. For even others, power is of no interest at all. 

The five bases of power were identified by John French and Bertram Raven in the early 1960’s through a study they had conducted on power in leadership roles. The study showed how different types of power affected one’s leadership ability and success in a leadership role.

Power and Authority

Leadership within organizations is only attainable through the combination and use of power and authority. As discussed by John Kotter (1985, p.86) “power is the ability to influence others to get things done, while authority is the formal rights that come to a person who occupies a particular position, since power does not necessarily accompany a position.” Problems sometimes arise when power is imposed without the backing of authority, which almost invariably is opposed.

While too often we can find powerful people who do not hold genuine positions of authority, we frequently find people who are in a position of authority, but are powerless to influence the behavior of others.

Leadership can be learned, and power can be developed, but in order to be an effective leader, one must be able to distinguish from the various forms of power and select the one most in line with his or her leadership style, character traits and working environment.

Formal and Personal Power











Legitimate Power

Legitimate Power refers to the authority of a formal position, and stems from the concept of ownership rights.

Although plethora of leaders believe that their power augments as they are promoted through the ranks, without personal power, legitimate or position power has its limitations, as their power can become diluted.

Reward Power

Reward power results in workers doing what is asked because they desire positive benefits or rewards.

Rewards can be anything a worker values, including, but not limited to, praise, pecuniary compensation and promotion. For instance, one of the primary reasons people work is for the remuneration they receive at the end of the payroll cycle, so they can carry on with their lives.

There are countless other forms of rewards, and anything that can be desired can be a form of reward, from a million dollar airplane to a couple of tickets to a baseball game.

Reward power is, therefore, the ability to give other people what they want while simultaneously asking them to do things you want. A quid-pro-quo exchange. Interestingly enough, reward power can be used to punish (passive coercion), when rewards are withheld in response to poor performance.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is the opposite of reward power; a leader who can punish an employee or team member has coercive power. Because the threat of punishment can persuade an employee to act a certain way, this type of leadership power is called “coercive power.”

Coercive power tends to be ubiquitous in many organizations. It is a negative form of power aimed at influencing others by instilling fear in them.

Coercive power does not encourage or motivate desired performance, but it does discourage undesired actions.

Although workers in developed countries have little to fear with regard to physical harm, the reality is much different in Third World countries, particularly, those with closed economies such as North Korea.

Nonetheless, in the preponderance of organizations today, managers continue to instill fear in their subordinates by threatening them with “if-then” statements and consequences such as being fired, demoted, having bad reviews, and so on.

Many workers, though they may not admit it, carry some level of fear with them into the workplace, from fear of reprisals to sabotage of their efforts.

This is especially true when managers hold a great deal of power over them and have the power to withhold benefits, including raises, assignment choices or rewards.

Fortunately, most managers today do not generally use overt fear as a way of getting things done.

Expert Power

Expert power comes from one’s experiences, skills or knowledge.

As we gain experience in particular areas, and become thought leaders in those areas, we begin to gather expert power that can be utilized to get others to help us meet our goals. 

For example, the Project Manager who is an expert at solving particularly challenging problems to ensure a project stays on track.

Expert Power does not rely on formal positions, as it originates from people who possess technical information, or specific skills and expertise respected by others. These professionals are typically promoted into managerial positions because they have performed at an outstanding level in their technical functions. Unless these experts recognize the need to exercise power and influence over their subordinates and peers, they will be challenged to become the leaders they aspire to be.

They may continue to be experts in their field, but they find it difficult to gain the respect they need in order to affect others’ behaviors. People who have more knowledge or experience than other members of their team exhibit expert power.

Referent Power

Referent power is gained by association between the person exercising power and some icon that actually wields influence and power.

For instance, if someone is applying for a job, that person can influence the chances of being hired by imposing some referent power to the hiring manager, mentioning they know the CEO very well, and that he has been encouraged to apply for said position because he believes the applicant has the right credentials.

Those with referent power can also use it for coercion. As humans, one of our greatest fears is social exclusion.

All it takes is a derogatory or pejorative word from a social leader for us to be shunned by others in our community.

Charismatic Power

Charisma power is a way to exert influence over people through force of character, and to get them to do what the leader wants, thus modifying behavior.

In the words of D.A. Benton (2003, p.125) “you know charisma when you see it in executives who exude self-confidence, style, composure, authority, and a boundless energy that propels them straight into the corner office.” Benton goes on to say “executive charisma is the ability to gain effective responses from others by using aware actions and considerate civility in order to get useful things done”

Information Power

Information power is derived from information knowledge (an asset) a leader possesses to strategically influence the behavior, attitudes and values in their favor. It is, therefore, based upon the persuasiveness or content of a communication, and is independent of the influencing individual.

You don’t have to be in a leadership or senior level role in an organization to have some form of power. In fact, the most respect is garnered on those who have personal sources of power. There is more respect for these individuals than for those who have power simply because they are the boss in the business. It has been shown that when employees in an organization associate the leadership’s power with expert or referent power, they are more engaged, more devoted to the organization and their role within it.

Employees are also more willing to go the extra mile to reach organizational goals.

QUESTIONS to consider:

1. What is your source of power?

2. Are you using the “right source” or simply throwing your weight around? 

3. How effectively do you use your source of power to meet key goals and objectives? 

Please share your thoughts with others in the comments share bar.

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