The recent media attention surrounding the impending arrival of the royal baby in London reflects yet another obsession the world has over the British monarchy. While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Prince William and Kate Middleton respectively) are not conventionally known as leaders, their popularity and influence presents a great illustration of the principles behind “the bases of social power” (French & Raven, 1962).
French and Raven (1962) posit that there are five ways in which individuals can influence others. Expert power and referent power are categorized as “personal power” while legitimate power, reward power, and coercive power are categorized as “position power” (Kotter, 1990). In the context of William and Kate, their source of influence stems from legitimate power and referent power. Legitimate power is derived as a result of the leader having a higher status than the followers (Northouse, 2013, pg 10). The monarchy is a traditional institution which rules by position power based on a system of hierarchy; members of the monarchy acquire position power as a result of their inherited rank in the institution. While this system has been in place for centuries, it has received constant criticisms for being elitist and “undemocratic” (Smith, 2012). Nevertheless, as long as the monarchy system continues to reign, Prince William and his child will undoubtedly continue to inherit the legacy and possess “legitimate power” as the future ruler of the country.
More so than their legitimate power, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s popularity stems from their referent power. Referent power is a type of personal power in which the leader is ascribed power by the followers; it reflects the influence one has due to the strength of the relationship between the leader and followers, in which the leader is perceived as a role model. Leaders with referent power are genuinely liked and respected by their followers as a result of their ‘person’ rather than their ‘position’ (Kotter, 1990). At age 29, Prince William was named “the most influential man in the world” in a British media poll (Arthurs, 2011). Prince William is known for his strong sense of duty and loyalty to the royal family and his own military career. He has a deep sense of self-awareness and moral perspective and is known in the media to be a “hard worker determined to use his global profile for good causes” (Arthurs, 2011). Following in her husband’s footsteps, Kate Middleton was named Time’s “100 most influential people in 2013” at age 31. Known to be “dignified, dutiful and unflappable, with a modest reluctance to steal the spotlight from her husband, Prince William”(Smith, 2013), Kate Middleton is deeply aware of the importance of being a role model for others who aspire to be in her shoes. Despite having to endure the incessant media attention and pressure comparing her to Princess Diana, Kate remains rooted as who she is. Furthermore, her influence also stems from her ‘iconic fashion sense’. While it is no surprise that members of the Royal Family are adept at keeping up appearances, Kate’s appeal stems from her unassuming and gracious demeanor, her willingness to don ‘mass-market’ labels and ‘recycle’ her wardrobe; which in turn makes her style more accessible to the average woman (Smith, 2013).
In many regards, Prince William and his wife revamped the stuffy images of the royal family in a way that previous generations did not. Yet, they are not easily influenced by any external pressure that came along with their position, which adds to their appeal and influence. “Referent power is about gaining others’ followership because they respect you, they want your approval, and they want to be like you” (Golden, 2012).
Arthurs, D. (2011). ‘Cool’ Duke of Cambridge named most influential man of the year ahead of David Cameron and President Obama. The Daily Mail. October 20, 2011. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
French, J.R., Jr., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in social power (pp.259-269). Ann Arbor, MI:Institute for Social Research.
Golden, Gail (2012). Building your referent power. Gail Golden Consulting. February 22, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
Kotter, J.P. (1990). A force for change: How leadership differs from management. New York: Free Press.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership:Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Smith, G. (2012). CNN. Why UK should abolish its ‘failed’ monarchy. CNN. June 1, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
April 18, 2013. Retrieved July 5, 2013.