The 5 Types of Power in Leadership

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.

The five bases of power are divided in two categories:

Formal Power

Coercive

Coercive power is conveyed through fear of losing one’s job, being demoted, receiving a poor performance review, having prime projects taken away, etc. This power is gotten through threatening others. For example, the VP of Sales who threatens sales folks to meet their goals or get replaced.

Reward

Reward power is conveyed through rewarding individuals for compliance with one’s wishes. This may be done through giving bonuses, raises, a promotion, extra time off from work, etc. For example, the supervisor who provides employees comp time when they meet an objective she sets for a project.

Legitimate

Legitimate power comes from having a position of power in an organization, such as being the boss or a key member of a leadership team. This power comes when employees in the organization recognize the authority of the individual. For example, the CEO who determines the overall direction of the company and the resource needs of the company.

Personal Power

Expert

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.

Referent

Referent power comes from being trusted and respected.  We can gain referent power when others trust what we do and respect us for how we handle situations. For example, the Human Resource Associate who is known for ensuring employees are treated fairly and coming to the rescue of those who are not.

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As you can see, 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.

What is your source of power? And are you using the “right source” or simply throwing your weight around?  How effectively do you use your source of power to meet key goals and objectives? Please share your thoughts with others in the comments field below. Thank you!

This topic was revisited recently.  Check it out here and be sure to leave your thoughts and opinions on the topic in the comment sections!





Gina Abudi

Gina Abudi, MBA has 20+ years of consulting experience developing and implementing strategy around projects, process & people for businesses of all sizes. She's co-author of The CIG to Best Practices for Small Businesses (Oct, '11) and contributing author to Gantthead’s Project Pain Reliever (July, '11). She's President of the PMI® Mass Bay Chapter Board of Directors and can be reached via her website & blog.

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