Great leaders have these things in common: they have a vision to achieve large-scale ideas that they dream of accomplishing, and they have the personal power to enact it. So how do they do it? In order to understand this, we must understand what it means to have power.
Many people believe that power and influence are the same thing. We learned in our reading this week that this is not the case. Power is the capacity to cause change, produce effects on others or potentially influence others (PSU WC, L. 7.). Power is the function of a relationship because it belongs not only to the leader, but also to the followers and the situation. Influence is the degree of actual change in a target’s attitudes, values, beliefs or behaviors (PSU WC, L.7.).
As stated above, power is part of a relationship. In order for power to exist, it must be allowed to exist. For example, a dictator cannot have absolute power unless his followers have given up their power. In order to exert power, a leader must have resources and motivation. Resources include such things as money, skills and/or intelligence. I may have the resources to lose weight, for example, but if I lack motivation, then I will not have the power to accomplish my goal of weight loss. On the other side, I may be motivated to become a supermodel but if I lack the resources, such as beauty and talent, my motivation means absolutely nothing. Therefore, it is only when resources and motivation fit well together that leaders can develop and utilize power.
According to the reading in lesson 07, there are five ways that leaders can influence others: coercive power, legitimate power, expert power, reward power and referent power. (PSU WC, L.7.)
Coercive power is based on fear. Fear of being hurt, poorly treated, or dismissed allows people with coercive power to rule over the fearful. A leader high in coercive power gets others to follow by communicating that failure to comply will lead to punishment. An example of a person who used coercive power was Hitler.
Legitimate power is based on the position, office, or title held by the leader. Normally, the higher the position or status, the more compliance the leader is able to get from the followers. The president, dean, director, or chief executive officer can theoretically “call the shots” in an organization and be fairly certain his or her instructions will be carried out. A leader high in legitimate power gets the compliance of others because they feel that this person has the right, by virtue of position, to expect that suggestions will be followed. I think we can all agree that we know a leader who has legitimate power.
Expert power is power based on the knowledge, talent and/or skills of the leader. For expert power to exist, it must be coupled with respect for that knowledge, talent and/or skill, along with the assumption that this expertise is valuable to followers. A leader high in expert power is seen as having the expertise to facilitate the work of others. The respect leads to compliance with the leader’s wishes. A neurosurgeon is someone who has expert powers. It is important to remember that there are times that followers actually have more expert power than leaders. Can you think of an example?
Reward power is power based on the leader’s ability to provide rewards for other people. People who follow a leader with reward power believe that going along with the leader’s suggestion will lead to positive incentives, such as pay, promotion, or recognition.
Referent power is based on the leader’s personal traits and the need others have to be referred to or associated with people of influence. Traits such as charm, charisma, and creativity are all intangible but very real characteristics of most leaders. They can command awe, respect, and loyalty. A leader high in referent power is generally liked and admired by others because of personality. This admiration and identification with the leader influences others to act on the leader’s suggestions.
Which type of power do you use? Is there one best type of power to have? Not really. Powerful leaders use as many of the five bases of power as possible. In fact, truly effective leaders are able to use all five power bases to some degree. Followers who are aware of these bases of power can also use them to limit or control the leader’s power.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2011). Retrieved February 21, 2013, from PSYCH 485 Lesson 07: Power & Influence: https://elearning.la.psu.edu/psych485/lesson-7
Lunenburg, F. C. (2012). Power and Leadership: An Influence Process. International Journal of Management, Business and Administration, 1-9.