The Five Types of Leadership Power
Why are some leaders effective and some are not? Why do employees love some leaders and hate others? In 1959, John French and Bertram Raven published “The Bases of Social Power” to answer these questions. The article discusses the five types of power that leaders tend to rely on to accomplish their goals. While this article was written nearly 60 years ago, the leadership principles French and Raven proposed are still very much applicable to leaders today. By learning and applying these five types of power, today’s leaders can better understand how to motivate, encourage, support, and push teams to succeed. It is important to note that one type of power is not inherently better than another. Depending on the situation, each type can be used by leaders to great effect. Furthermore, leaders do not generally adopt and exclusively use only one of these types of power. Leaders often rely heavily on one or two types of power and use the rest to a lesser extent. Better still, effective leaders will know which power type to exercise based on the situation and the needs of their subordinates. Today’s business leaders need to know the best ways to drive results from the organization’s human resources. Organizations must have effective leaders in order to succeed. If you want to become an effective, successful leader, you must learn, apply, and practice effective leadership principles.
Leaders often motivate and persuade team members to work hard by offering rewards for good performance. In psychology, this is known as Positive Reinforcement, and has been shown to be a very effective way to change behavior. Reward Power is a very common power type in business as compensation is often tied to performance. Bonuses, raises, and promotions often come from performance reviews from the manager. If a team is primarily motivated by extrinsic factors, Reward Power is an effective type of power for a leader to use. Not all rewards need be monetary, however. Leaders who cannot use money to motivate their teams can still reward team members for stellar performance. A project manager, for example, can reward a team member’s good performance by staffing the team member on highly coveted and interesting projects that give the employee high visibility within the organization. Leaders who wish to use Reward Power to motivate employees often need to be creative to design the proper incentives.
Example: United States President Andrew Jackson was known for rewarding political supporters with government jobs.
Coercive Power is the opposite of Reward Power. Leaders who use Coercive Power punish poor performance rather than reward good performance. While punishing employees is generally not the best way to build morale in teams, it is sometimes a necessary and effective way for managers to accomplish their goals. It is not recommended for managers to consistently use this tactic over the course of a project, however. A manager will sometimes have to swiftly and sternly correct behavior for the good of the team as a whole. If this tactic is used, leaders should follow up with Reward Power when the employee(s) performance has improved to reduce potential morale and motivation problems.
Example: Darth Vader—“Apology accepted Captain Needa.”
Legitimate Power comes from the leader’s position or title. Leaders with authority inherently have influence over subordinates. Employees often listen to and follow a person in a position of power in organizations. People generally respect the office of President of the United States, for example, so they listen to and follow that person’s leadership, regardless of political disagreements. It is harder for people in business who do not have a high-power title to elicit this type of power. However, if a senior leader within the organization has approved or supported a project, a junior manager can and should use that person’s title to motivate and encourage workers.
Example: Since the election, Donald Trump’s adversaries have been trying to delegitimize Trump’s presidency because they know that the office of the President holds a lot of Legitimate Power.
Referent Power is the ability to use personality and relationships to accomplish a leader’s goals. People with high Emotional Intelligence can be very effective leaders because they understand people. They have the ability to understand each team member’s challenges, abilities, and emotions, and use this understanding to motivate each employee. Leaders who have Referent Power have support from subordinates because those subordinates respect and care about the leader. People want to follow genuine and understanding leaders. Young leaders can develop Referent Power by being a hardworking and easygoing co-worker. Being friendly and kind to subordinates, colleagues, and superiors alike will help develop the skills necessary to be an effective leader with Referent Power.
Example: United States President Theodore Roosevelt was known for inspiring his followers.
“The leader must understand that he leads us, that he guides us, by convincing us so that we will follow him or follow his direction. He must not get it into his head that it is his business to drive us or rule us. His business is to manage the government for us.” –Theodore Roosevelt
Leaders who use Expert Power use their vast experience and knowledge in order to inspire others to action. It is easier to use expert power if the leader is experienced and has technical expertise related to the organization or project. New and younger leaders in business organizations can draw on education and past professional experiences to augment what would otherwise be weak Expert Power. While higher education does not automatically translate to a higher skill, it often can give a younger manager the credibility needed to lead a team. Even without decades of experience in the organization, a leader can use Expert Power if he or she has critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Developing these skills is essential for younger leaders who want to employ Expert Power.
Example: Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, became a business legend “based on the expert knowledge he pursued and collected” throughout his life.
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